Zinc Isotope Evidence Of Carnivorous Neanderthals
It has been established through zinc isotope analysis of tooth enamel pthat Neanderthals were in fact carnivores.
Neanderthals—were they carnivores? While some research on the dental tartar of Iberian Peninsula residents seems to indicate that they were big plant consumers, other studies conducted at locations outside of Iberia tend to suggest that they ate nearly exclusively meat. The Neanderthals at the Gabasa site in Spain appear to have been carnivores, according to new analytical techniques1 used on a molar belonging to a member of this species.
Until recently, scientists had to typically remove proteins and examine the nitrogen isotopes found in the collagen of bone. However, this technique is frequently only applicable in temperate climates and hardly ever on materials older than 50,000 years. Nitrogen isotope analysis becomes extremely difficult or even impossible when these criteria are not satisfied.
This was the situation with the molar from the study's Gabasa location. With these limitations in mind, the authors chose to examine the zinc isotope ratios found in tooth enamel, a substance that is impervious to all kinds of deterioration. This technique is being utilized for the first time to try to determine a Neanderthal's diet. The likelihood that the bones come from a carnivore increases with decreasing zinc isotope ratio.
The same historical period and region's animal bones, including those of carnivores like lynxes and wolves and herbivores like rabbits and chamois, were also subjected to study. According to the findings, the Neanderthal from the Gabasa site was presumably a carnivore. Other chemical tracers reveal that they were weaned before the age of two, and broken bones discovered at the site suggest that this individual also ate the bone marrow of its victim, without ingesting the bones. Studies also reveal that this Neanderthal most likely passed away in the same location where they had lived as a youngster.
This new method of zinc isotope analysis makes it simpler to discriminate between omnivores and carnivores than prior methods. The researchers want to repeat the experiment on individuals from other sites, particularly from the Payre site in south-east France, where new research is under progress, to corroborate their findings.
Jaouen, K., Villalba-Mouco, V., Smith, G. M., Trost, M., Leichliter, J., Lüdecke, T., Méjean, P., Mandrou, S., Chmeleff, J., Guiserix, D., Bourgon, N., Blasco, F., Mendes Cardoso, J., Duquenoy, C., Moubtahij, Z., Salazar Garcia, D. C., Richards, M., Tütken, T., Hublin, J.-J., … Montes, L. (2022). A Neandertal dietary conundrum: Insights provided by tooth enamel Zn isotopes from Gabasa, Spain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 119(43). https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2109315119