Neanderthals Ate Meat

By Nancy Steinbach

This is Bill White with the VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT.

New research on the bones of ancient Neanderthals has shown that these human-like creatures ate much more meat than scientists had thought. Findings by an international team of scientists suggest these ancient creatures had highly developed hunting skills.

Scientists say Neanderthals were a kind of human being. They walked on two legs. They had an especially large bone just above the eyes. But these creatures were not direct human ancestors. They disappeared from the Earth about twenty-eight-thousand years ago. No one knows why. One idea suggests that they could not find enough animals to hunt as the weather became colder. And they were not able to change the kind of food they ate.

Scientists from Britain, Croatia and the United States may have discovered evidence to support this idea. They recently performed chemical tests on Neanderthal bones found in caves near the Croatian capital, Zagreb. The tests showed that almost all the food the creatures ate was animal meat. This led the scientists to decide that the Neanderthals were good hunters. And they had a much more developed social organization than had been thought.

The scientists reported their findings in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They said the findings suggest that there may have been little difference in the food and organizational skills of Neanderthals and modern humans called Homo sapiens. Modern humans arrived in the area of Europe occupied by Neanderthals about forty-thousand years ago.

The new findings generally confirm the results of tests made in the Nineteen-Nineties on Neanderthal fossils in France and Belgium. And other scientific evidence from Portugal has shown that Neanderthals produced children with Homo sapiens living in the area at the same time. Scientists say all this evidence supports the idea that Neanderthals existed successfully with modern humans who were spreading across Europe at the time. Homo sapiens replaced Neanderthals about twenty-eight-thousand years ago.

Scientists are planning similar tests on Neanderthal fossils found in the Middle East. They want to find out if the creatures living in warm weather areas also ate mostly meat.

This VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT was written by Nancy Steinbach. This is Bill White.

Voice of America Special English