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Old faeces reveal Neanderthal diet

Nature volume 511, page 8 (03 July 2014) | Download Citation


Image: Carolina Mallol

Traces of Neanderthal faeces — the oldest hominin waste found so far — suggest that early relatives of humans ate more plants than previously thought.

Most studies of the diet of Neanderthals, who lived 230,000–40,000 years ago, have focused on butchered bones and other signs of meat consumption, which leave clearer evidence at archeological sites than the signs of plant consumption. Ainara Sistiaga of the University of La Laguna in Tenerife, Spain, and her team analysed sediment from the El Salt site, which dates back 50,000 years, in eastern Spain and found geochemical signals of the digested remains of both meat and plants in fossilized faeces (pictured).

The researchers used chemical ratios from studies of sewage pollution to argue that the faecal matter had come from humans and not from other animals.

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