Neanderthals' main food source was definitely meat
Isotope analyses performed on single amino acids in Neanderthals' collagen samples shed new light on their debated diet
February 19, 2019
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Researchers describe two late Neanderthals with exceptionally high nitrogen isotope ratios, which would traditionally be interpreted as the signature of freshwater fish consumption. By studying the isotope ratios of single amino acids, they however demonstrated that instead of fish, the adult Neanderthal had a diet relying on large herbivore mammals and that the other Neanderthal was a breastfeeding baby whose mother was also a carnivore.
Neanderthals' diets are highly debated: they are traditionally considered carnivores and hunters of large mammals, but this hypothesis has recently been challenged by numerous pieces of evidence of plant consumption. Ancient diets are often reconstructed using nitrogen isotope ratios, a tracer of the trophic level, the position an organism occupies in a food chain. Neanderthals are apparently occupying a high position in terrestrial food chains, exhibiting slightly higher ratios than carnivores (like hyenas, wolves or foxes) found at the same sites. It has been suggested that these slightly higher values were due to the consumption of mammoth or putrid meat. And we also know some examples of cannibalism for different Neanderthal sites.