A new study of microbes recently showed how a Neanderthal diet was like during our ancestors' time. Specifically, what was presented was another blow to the famous illustration that Neanderthals were "cruel meat-eaters."
The said new research on bacteria collected Neanderthal teeth, as specified in a Science report. It shows that the modern-day humans' close cousins consumed a lot of nuts, roots or other starchy foods that dramatically changed the type of bacteria in their mouths.
Results suggested that the ancestors had adapted to consuming lots of starch by approximately 600,000 years ago, about the same period as they needed more sweets to fuel a big expansion of their brains.
According to evolutionary biologist Rachel Carmody, from the Harvard University, who was not part of the study, this research is groundbreaking.
The research suggested that the ancestors of both Neanderthals and humans were cooking too much starchy food, at least 600,000 years back. More so, they had already adjusted to eating more starchy plants even long before the agriculture's invention about 10,000 years ago, added Carmody.
Neanderthal Diet for Bigger Brains
This report also specified that our ancestors' brains doubled in size from two million to 700,000 years ago. The study authors have long credited better stone tools, as well as cooperative hunting.
In connection to this, early humans got better at hunting and killing animals, not to mention processing meat. They also ate in large-quantity diet, which provided them more energy more swiftly to fuel their hungrier brains' growth.
Still, the study investigators have wondered over how meat did the job. For human ancestors to develop a bigger brain more efficiently, they required energy-dense food that had glucose, a sugar type, according to Harvard and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History's molecular archeologist, Christina Warinner. The meat, she added, is not a good glucose source.
Nonetheless, the starchy plants collected by a lot of living hunter-gatherers, are an ideal source of glucose. To find out if oral bacteria are tracking alterations in diet or the environment, Warinner, together with James Fellows Yates, a Max Planck graduate student, and a large international team, investigated the oral bacteria stuck to the Neanderthals' teeth.
Neanderthals, according to History, are an extinct hominid species that were the nearest relatives to today's humans. They existed and lived throughout Europe and portions of Asia from approximately 400,000 until roughly 40,000 years back, and they were considered skillful when it comes to hunting huge, Ice Age animals.
The researchers examined billions of DNA fragments from long-dead bacteria still stuck on the teeth of over 120 individuals.
One of these individuals was a Neanderthal who lived around 100,000 years ago at Siberia's Pesturina Cave, which produced the oldest oral microbiome genome reconstructed at present.
The communities of microbes found in the mouths of these Neanderthals and pre-agricultural humans were strongly similar to each other according to the study entitled, "The evolution and changing ecology of the African hominid oral microbiome," and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
What was found in the study, according to Warriner, pushed the essentiality of starch in the diet of the past, particularly the Neanderthal diet, to when human brains were still expanding.
Since the enzyme is much more effective at digesting cooked instead of raw starch, the result also suggested that cooking was also common around 600,000 years back, said Carmody.
In relation to this, researchers had argued whether cooking became common when the big brain started expanding nearly two million years back, or it spread later, during the growth's second surge.
Related information about the Neanderthal diet is shown on Natural History Museum's YouTube video below:
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