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Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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New Thoughts on Neanderthals’ Diet

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The levels of nitrogen-15 in Neanderthal bones are so high that they suggest the early human relatives ate more meat than do carnivores such as hyenas. According to a Science News report, paleobiologist Kimberly Foecke of George Washington University thinks those high levels of nitrogen-15 might be due to the condition of the meat that Neanderthals consumed. To check the levels of nitrogen in rotting meat, Foecke left steaks cut from animals that had been raised without hormones or antibiotics outside in a box covered with mesh, and sampled them daily for 16 days. Preliminary results suggest that the levels of nitrogen-15 fluctuated as the meat rotted, and increased during the first week, while the meat was still moist. Foecke says that could account for the high levels of nitrogen-15 found in Neanderthal remains, since the carcass of a large animal might have fed a Neanderthal group for several days. She will next test what happens to the levels of nitrogen-15 in cooked and smoked meats over time. For more, go to “A Traditional Neanderthal Home.”

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