A series of discoveries made in northern Spain recently demonstrate that Neanderthals may have had at least some basic knowledge about the healing properties of multiple plants. The recent investigation was carried out at the El Sidrón dig site.
The research group was led by scientists from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, in Spain, and the University of York, in England, but it included experts from around the world. Their molecular analysis of Neanderthalian remains indicate the hominids knew more about medicine than first thought.
In fact, for a very long time, scientists believed that these individuals were exclusively carnivore. The discoveries made at El Sidrón indicate that Neanderthals in fact consumed a relatively diversified range of cooked plant-based products.
The data also suggest that they had knowledge about the nutritional values, health effects and medicinal properties of the plants that they were eating. This is just the latest in a string of studies indicating that the species had a more complex diet than first established.
As more in-depth investigations are conducted, researchers are beginning to uncover a species of hominids that had a diverse culture, as well as a taste for meat and plants alike. Neanderthals were able to cook the plant products that could not be digested or ingested otherwise.
As a species, they started to go extinct around 30,000 years ago, and their decline continued until the last of them died out, some 24,000 years ago. There were many factors involved in their demise, including a bout of global cooling, volcanic eruptions, and the emergence of our species.
Details of the new study were published in this week's issue of the esteemed scientific journal Naturwissenschaften
, which is edited by Springer. The main body of the study was carried out on five Neanderthal remains collected from the Spanish dig site.
“The varied use of plants we identified suggests that the Neanderthal occupants of El Sidrón had a sophisticated knowledge of their natural surroundings which included the ability to select and use certain plants for their nutritional value and for self-medication,” says Karen Hardy.
“While meat was clearly important, our research points to an even more complex diet than has previously been supposed,” adds the expert, the lead author of the study, who holds joint appointments at UAB and the University of York.