Neanderthal’s five-a-day: Prehistoric poop shows cavemen ate their veggies

The oldest known Neanderthal poo, uncovered in Spain, shows that cavemen ate not only meat but vegetables too, according to a new study. The discovery was made at the archeological site of El Salt, where researchers have found signs that Neanderthals lived some 45,000-60,000 years ago. The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, is the first to analyse faeces in an attempt to show precisely what kinds of foods our long-extinct kin were eating.

We believe Neanderthals probably ate what was available in different situations, seasons and climates.

Ainara Sistiaga, a graduate student who performed the research at MIT

Researchers dug into the sediment and ground the samples to a powder for analysis at a sophisticated Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) lab. They discovered biomarkers in the poo that showed coprostanol, a lipid formed when the gut metabolizes cholesterol, particularly from eating animals. They also found 5B-stigmastanol, a substance that is made when plants are broken down in the digestive process. That means Neanderthals ate mostly meat, but that there was also evidence of a considerable amount of plants in their diet, including tubers, berries and nuts.

It’s important to understand all aspects of why humanity has come to dominate the planet the way it does.

Co-author professor Roger Summons at MIT