Fecal Matter Suggests Neanderthals Ate Plants Too

September 21, 2014

Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article. 

1. unearth /ʌnˈɜrθ/ (v.) – to find something, usually by digging
Example: The miners unearthed gold while searching for copper.

2. extinct /ɪkˈstɪŋkt/ (adj.) – referring to something that is no longer existing
Example: The scientist gave us a lecture about the extinct species that once lived in Europe.

3. discover /dɪˈskʌvər/ (v.) – to find something out
Example: Historians discovered an ancient tool used by prehistoric men.

4. precisely /prɪˈsaɪs li/ (adv.) – in an exact manner
Example: She precisely described how the replica of a dinosaur in the museum looked like.

5. flexibility /flɛksəˈbɪlɪti/ (n.) – ability to adapt
Example: The researchers wanted to test the animal’s flexibility in different weather conditions.


Read the text below.
An analysis of a fecal fossil unearthed in Spain revealed that Neanderthals ate not only meat but also vegetables.

A study published in PLOS One suggests that Neanderthals were not just carnivores as they were once believed to be. The fecal matter found shows that this extinct human species were actually omnivores – those who eat both meat and vegetables.

The fossil was discovered at the archaeological site called El Salt, where Neanderthals have lived about 45,000 to 60,000 years ago, according to studies.

The study aimed to show precisely what kinds of food Neanderthals were eating. Researchers dug into the sediment and ground the samples to powder for analysis at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) laboratory.

After the researchers examined the fecal fossil, they found coprostanol in the sample specimen. Coprostanol is a lipid formed when the gut metabolizes cholesterol, particularly from eating animals. They also found in the fossil a substance called 5Beta-stigmastanol that is made when plants are broken down during digestion.

Scientific literature suggests that Neanderthals ate mostly meat with traces of vegetables in their diet. Ainara Sistiaga, one of the researchers, said that the microfossils obtained from Neanderthal teeth cannot fully support the theory that plants are included in the species’ diet. According to her, using teeth as a tool in biting plants and other things was common in prehistoric societies.

Neanderthals are known as the closest relatives of modern human species. Sistiaga said that understanding the diet of the species closest to human beings will make it easier for humans to know their evolutionary flexibility.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.  

Discussion A

·         Do you think feces can be enough evidence to prove that the first people ate plants? Why or why not?
·         What do you think are the other benefits of knowing whether Neanderthals eat plants or not? Please explain.

Discussion B

·         How important is it to know about one’s origins?
·         How do people appreciate archaeological findings in your country?

September 21, 2014