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Middle to Late Paleolithic: Neanderthals Consumed Grains and Legumes

Posted Jul 20 2010 5:40pm
For 200,000 Years Neanderthals Dominated Euroasia

Homo neanderthalensis, Neanderthals, migrated out of Africa and completely separated genetic lineages an estimated 200 to 300,000 years ago or even longer. Recent genetic data has shown that as Neanderthals migrated northward, hypopigmentation and red hair (MC1R gene associated) characteristics may have been selected for. National Geographic presents a nice summary HERE .

The geographic range for Neanderthals was vast from Germany, France, Croatia, the steppes of Russia, the Mediterrean shores where they hunted seal and mussels to the Middle East and Israel. See wiki diagram. This area also included the 'fertile cresent', the origin of mass cultivation of cereal grains and domestication of herd animals that sprouted the new world economy, war, arts and advanced culture.

Modern Humans Slowly Entered Eurasia 100,000 Yrs Ago

Modern humans (aka Hss or Homo sapien sapien) started to arrive 90 to 100,000 years ago according to fossil evidence from a rock shelter in Qazfeh Israel. See diagram, courtesy National Geographic). Perhaps after separation from a common hominid ancestor 200 to 300,000 years earlier, modern homininds and Neanderthals crossed paths and recent genomic evidence suggest intermingling occurred... though probably rarely but appears to have resulted in introgression of 1-4% Neanderthal DNA in Euroasian gene stock. The Neanderthal clade consisted of an estimated sparse 15,000 individuals. Earth's population was probably only double or triple that? The last remains of Neanderthals are dated back 28,000 yrs ago at Gibraltar.

What happened? No one is sure...

Sexual and DNA Neanderthal + Modern Human Admixture

Trinkaus, a paleoanthropologist interviewed in the National Geographic piece, states "At the time of the biological transition, the basic behavior [of the two groups] is pretty much the same, and any differences are likely to have been subtle." Trinkaus believes they indeed may have mated occasionally. He sees evidence of admixture between Neanderthals and modern humans in certain fossils, such as a 24,500-year-old skeleton of a young child discovered at the Portuguese site of Lagar Velho, and a 32,000-year-old skull from a cave called Muierii in Romania. "There were very few people on the landscape, and you need to find a mate and reproduce," says Trinkaus. "Why not? Humans are not known to be choosy. Sex happens."

Euroasian Fauna and Flora Based on Fluctuating Temperature

See far top diagram, courtesy Wiki. Wild temperature fluctations occurred on earth during the time period that Neanderthals inhibited Euroasia. Mega and minor extinctions of flora and fauna would probably in a single lifespan of a Neanderthal's life. As the temperatures cooled, trees retreated and grasslands persisted and greatly expanded in their territorial ranges. As the Ice Age ended, the Neanderthal had already perished as a distinct genetic species. Around ~12,000 years ago when high temperatures occurred consistly, mass cereal cultivation and domestication of animals signaled what we recognize now as the Neolithic age. How early were the first small grained grasses foraged by our hunter-gatherer forebears?

Would this have affected Neanderthal gene expression?

Chronic disease afflictions?

Natural selection?

Evidence Middle Paleolithic Neanderthals Foraged Small Grained Grasses

Grasses are basically weeds and non-flowering. The seeds are dispersed off the grain-head by wind and animal/bird ingestion. As such, natural plant defenses support dispersal by keeping the seed intact and evolution of 'chemical warfare' involving phytic acid, lectins and gluten to ensure intact dispersal after animal/bird digestion. As early as 105,000 years ago, sorghum grains were found immediately near hearths in S. Africa highly suggestive of ancient man foraging and use stone mill tools ( Science 2009 ). Could ancient Neanderthals have adopted similar tools and techniques, especially if cooling climatic changes, reduced animal resources to hunt and possible competition with modern humans for resources were all occurring?

Apparently this is the case. ~Approximately 50,000 yrs ago, definitely before the end of the middle paleolithic era, evidence for Neanderthals collecting phytic acid rich legumes and small-grain grasses exists.

Weiss et al published in a review of the use of cereals out pacing small-grained labor intensive grasses in utilization by early man ( PNAS 2004 ). See above diagram. I extrapolated to where estimated Neanderthal extinction may have occurred and the potential for use of small-grained grasses by co-mingling modern humans. He discusses the evidence of grain/cereal foraging by Middle Paleolithic Neanderthals at 2 sites in the Middle East ('fertile cresent')
  • 48-60,000 yrs ago: Kebara Cave, Lev et al
  • 55-70,000 yrs ago: Amud Cave, Madella et al

    Middle Paleolithic: Prelude to the Broad Spectrum
    In Middle Paleolithic Kebara Cave (~60,000–48,000 thermoluminescence years ago), Mount Carmel, Israel, Lev and associates (41, 44) found 3,956 charred seeds representing 52 taxa. On the basis of ethnographic observations and the fact that this plant assemblage was retrieved mainly from the immediate environment of the hearths, we assume that these seeds represent the Mousterian cave dwellers’ diet. Most of the seeds (3,300) were legumes but there were also acorns (Quercus sp.) and pistachio (Pistacia atlantica) nuts, as well as the seeds of giant golden-drop (Onosma gigantean), podonosma (Podonosma orientalis), Judean bugloss (Echium angustifolium judaeum), safflower (Carthamus sp.), and wild grape (Vitis vinifera). Only ten grass grains, including two of wild barley (Hordeum spontaneum), were recovered. In light of the generally good preservation of plant remains in the cave, Lev and colleagues concluded that cereal grains were an insignificant food source. It is notable, however, that they had made their way into human hands by this time, albeit in modest amounts.

    Less compelling evidence of the Middle Paleolithic diet comes from Amud Cave (~70,000–55,000 thermoluminescence years ago) in the Upper Galilee, Israel. On the basis of phytolith assemblages, Madella et al. (42) concluded that the cave’s Neanderthals exploited herbaceous plants, ligneous parts of trees and shrubs, and mature grass panicles, and proposed that broad-spectrum exploitation of plants had started at least by the end of the Middle Paleolithic.

Legume and Grain-Consuming Neanderthals and Modern Humans

Did Neanderthals' diet affect the trajectory of their long existence to a final conclusion earlier than expected for such a strong, vital, muscular, close-proximity large-game hunting, cold-adapted, smart, larger-brained (20%), advanced hominid race who had already survived several large and small ice ages??

Why did their race slowly but abruptly fall short?
Lectins? Phytates? Vitamin D deficiency? Celiac disease?
How are both modern humans and extinct Neanderthal similar to Old and New World Primates in regards to pathophysiology of celiac and bone diseases?
See diagram below -- fossil sites of Neanderthal and modern man and the fertile cresent of grains/cereals/gluten. The vegetation is for 18,000 yrs ago, not 28,000 yrs ago when it was several magnitudes cooler reaching the lowest temperatures of the last Ice Age, more grass-lands and arid areas in the Mediterrean and northern European areas... The intense cooling from the Ice Ages did not initiate at polar caps but central continental bodies of water -- literally sucking out 200 to 300 ft of water as it cooled to freezing. Vegetation vastly altered... Grains...d*mn dirty grains...

Next postEvidence of Phytate-related Rachitic Damage in Late Neanderthals

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