Neanderthals may have turned to a food source modern human might consider stomach-turning: consuming foods animals had already eaten, British researchers say.
A study of microscopic fragments of herbs and other plants in tartar found on Neanderthal teeth, scientists at London's Natural History Museum report, suggests those fragments could have been embedded in the stomach contents of deer, bison and other herbivores hunted and eaten by Neanderthals.
"Many hunter-gatherers, including the Inuit, Cree and Blackfeet, eat the stomach contents of animals such as deer because they are good source of vitamin C and trace elements," researcher Chris Stringer told The Observer. "For example, among the Inuit, the stomach contents of an animal are considered a special delicacy with a consistency and a flavor that is not unlike cream cheese. At least that is what I am told."
The museum researchers' findings contradict an earlier interpretation of the Neanderthal tooth tarter that held that members of this extinct human species cooked vegetables and consumed bitter-tasting medicinal plants such as chamomile and yarrow.
"The mistake is to think that because you find plant fragments in teeth that they must have got there because these carnivores -- in this case Neanderthals -- had consumed them as part of a carefully constructed diet or were taken because it was realized that certain herbs and grasses had health-promoting properties," researcher Laura Buck said. "In fact, they may have got there purely because Neanderthals liked to eat the stomach contents of some of the animals they killed."