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In a fresh discovery, scientists have unearthed what appears to be the world’s oldest cooked meal in a cave complex in northern Iraq
, prompting speculation that Neanderthals may have been foodies.
Neanderthals are an extinct species or subspecies of archaic humans who lived in Eurasia until 40,000 years ago. While earlier speculations pointed towards them surviving on a diet of foraged berries and uncooked animal flesh, that no longer appears to be the case. “Our findings are the first real indication of complex cooking – and thus of food culture – among Neanderthals,” said Chris Hunt
, a professor of cultural paleoecology at Liverpool John Moores University
, who coordinated the excavation, as reported by the Guardian.
and his colleagues even tried to recreate one of the recipes, using seeds gathered from around the caves. “It made a sort of pancake-cum-flatbread which was really very palatable – a sort of nutty taste,” Hunt said.
The burned food remnants – the oldest ever found – were recovered from the Shanidar Cave
site, a Neanderthal
dwelling 500 miles north of Baghdad in the Zagros Mountains
. Thought to be about 70,000 years old, they were discovered in one of many ancient hearths in the caves.
The team also used a scanning electron microscope to analyse ancient charred food fragments recovered from Franchthi Cave
in southern Greece, which was occupied by early modern humans about 12,000 years ago.
“We present evidence for the first time of soaking and pounding pulse seeds by both Neanderthals and early modern humans (Homo sapiens) at both sites, and during both phases at Shanidar Cave,” said Dr Ceren Kabukcu
, an archaeobotanist at the University of Liverpool
, who led the study.
“We also find evidence of ‘mixtures’ of seeds included in food items and argue that there were some unique preferences for specific plant flavours.”
Hunt said, “Because the Neanderthals had no pots, we presume that they soaked their seeds in a fold of an animal skin.”
Assuming that they used local rocks to pound seeds, the final product may also have been somewhat gritty. “Having sampled the re-created recipe, I think we can understand why the Neanderthals had teeth in such a degraded state,” Hunt added.