Paleo Diet 1.0: Neanderthals ate 80% meat, 20% veg, study finds

© Nikola Solic
Followers of the paleo cult have been redeemed, kind of, thanks to a new study of the Neanderthal diet which found that 80 percent of their food intake was meat.

However, instead of picking up steaks at the local Whole Foods or delivered from Omaha, the hairy humanoids had to hunt and prepare their dinner, which included species such as mammoths and woolly rhinoceroses, before all three were made extinct by the feared homosapiens.

Researchers - and a growing Paleo sector - have long debated the truth about early ancestor diets, but this study from the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment at the University of Tübingen in Germany is the first to nail down precise percentages.

The results come from the bones of several Neanderthals which were discovered in two excavation sites in Belgium alongside an array of 45,000 to 40,000-year-old bones belonging to mammoths, woolly rhinoceroses, wild horses, reindeer, European bison, cave hyenas, wolves, bears, and lions.

By comparing the isotope concentrations of collagen, an essential component of connective tissue, in the different bones, scientists were able to see how the diets differed between Neanderthals and their neighbors.

"Previously, it was assumed that Neanderthals utilized the same food sources as their animal neighbors,"said Prof Hervé Bocherens, co-author of the study. "However, our results show that all predators occupy a very specific niche, preferring smaller prey as a rule, such as reindeer, wild horses, or steppe bison, while the Neanderthals primarily specialized on the large plant-eaters such as mammoths and woolly rhinoceroses."

As much as they clearly loved meat, an analysis of the amino acids in the collagen showed plant matter was an important part of their daily eating habits too, consisting of 20 percent of all food consumed.

An offshoot of the study is that researchers are closer to understanding what caused the extinction of Neanderthals - with their diet being a less likely cause.