Research in the USA – rumoured to have been funded by the George W. Bush Foundation for the Advancement of Knowledge – has confirmed that Neanderthals cooked and ate vegetables and plants.
Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, these findings contradict the popular image of Neanderthals as exclusively meat eaters. Chemical analysis of their bones had previously suggested they ate little or no vegetables.
A comparative study of Neanderthal remains from around the world found fossilised grains of vegetable material in their teeth and some of it had been cooked. This is no surprise to my colleague, who is an expert in the home life of Australopithecines and specialises in Palaeolithic dentistry. He has long believed that Stone Age people, while partial to a toothsome marsupial, chewed the cud around their campfires and may have toasted marshmallows as well.
He also says that Homo habilis was taught at an early age to floss and that evidence of dental detritus is only to be found among an earlier species of lazy hominids who lived in cavities. Moreover, it was common for Neanderthal mothers to cajole their offspring into eating their greens by threatening to take away their toys, made from an early form of Pleistocene. This was especially effective during the Ice Age (when it was too cold to go out).
In short, my friend is of the opinion that there is nothing new in these findings. Detailed examination of cave paintings also shows that hunter-gatherers knew their onions and appreciated the culinary distinction between a freshly baked cookie and a woolly mammoth – especially when they tried to dunk it!