Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Flavouring food: the contribution of chimpanzee behaviour to the understanding of Neanderthal calculus composition and plant use in Neanderthal diets

  • Sabrina Krief (a1) (a2), Camille Daujeard (a3), Marie-Hélène Moncel (a3), Noemie Lamon (a4) (a5) and Vernon Reynolds (a5) (a6)...

In a recent study, Hardy et al. (2012) examined ten samples of dental calculus from five Neanderthal individuals from El Sidrón in northern Spain (occupation dates between 47300 and 50600 BP). In calculus from a young adult, they discovered the presence of compounds (dihydroazulene, chamazulene and methylherniarin) that occur in yarrow (Achillea millefolium) and camomile (Matriarca chamomilla). In preference to other hypotheses, the authors proposed that these two plants were used for self-medication. In this paper, we do not reject the self-medication hypothesis, but our observations of wild chimpanzees in Uganda, at Sonso in the Budongo Forest Reserve and at Kanyawara and Sebitoli in Kibale National Park (separated by about 150km), as well as ethnological and palaeontological evidence, lead us to propose three other explanations for the presence of these compounds. In addition, data on Neanderthal behaviour suggest that their subsistence and technological strategies were complex.

Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

J.W. Brink 1997. Fat content in leg bones of Bison bison, and applications to archaeology. Journal of Archaeological Science 24: 259–74.

L.T. Buck & C.B. Stringer . 2014. Having the stomach for it: a contribution to Neanderthal diets? Quaternary Science Reviews 96: 161–67.

C.A. Carter , E.A. Gray , T.L. Schneider , C.M. Lovett Jr, L. Scott , A.C. Messer & D.P. Richardson . 1997. Toxicarioside B and toxicarioside C. New cardenolides isolated from Antiaris toxicaria latex-derived dart poison. Tetrahedron 53: 16959–68.

R.R. Church & R.L. Lyman . 2003. Small fragments make small differences in efficiency when rendering grease from fractured artiodactyl bones by boiling. Journal of Archaeological Science 30: 1077–84.

C. Daujeard & M.-H. Moncel . 2010. On Neanderthal subsistence strategies and land use: a regional focus on the Rhone Valley area in southeastern France. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 29: 368–91.

M. Ecker , H. Bocherens , M-A. Julien , F. Rivals , J-P. Raynal & M.-H. Moncel . 2013. Middle Pleistocene ecology and Neanderthal subsistence: insights from stable isotope analyses in Payre (Ardèche, southeastern France). Journal of Human Evolution 65: 363–73.

N.L. Etkin & P.J. Ross . 1982. Food as medicine and medicine as food: an adaptive framework for the interpretation of plant utilization among the Hausa of northern Nigeria. Social Science & Medicine 16: 1559–73.

P. Fernandes , J.-P. Raynal & M.-H. Moncel . 2008. Middle Palaeolithic raw material gathering territories and Neandertal mobility in the southern Massif Central of France: first results from a petro-archaeological study on flint. Journal of Archaeological Science 35: 2357–70.

A. Gracia , J.L. Arsuaga , I. Martínez , C. Lorenzo , J.M. Carretero , J.M. Bermúdez de Castro & E. Carbonell . 2009. Craniosynostosis in the Middle Pleistocene human cranium 14 from the Sima de los Huesos, Atapuerca, Spain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 106: 6573–78.

B.L. Hardy & M.-H. Moncel . 2011. Neanderthal use of fish, mammals, birds, starchy plants and wood 125–250,000 year ago. PLoS ONE 6 (8): e23768.

B.L. Hardy , M.-H. Moncel , C. Daujeard , P. Fernandes , P. Béarez , E. Desclaux , M.G. Chacon Navarro , S. Puaud & R. Gallotti . 2013a. Impossible Neanderthals? Making string, throwing projectiles and catching small game during Marine Isotope Stage 4 (Abri du Maras, France). Quaternary Science Review 82: 2340.

K. Hardy , S. Buckley , M.J. Collins , A. Estalrrich , D. Brothwell , L. Copeland , A. García-Tabernero , S. Garcia-Vargas , M. de la Rasilla , C. Lalueza-Fox , R. Huguet , M. Bastir , D. Santamaría , M. Madella , J. Wilson , A. Fernandez Cortés & A. Rosas . 2012. Neanderthal medics? Evidence for food, cooking, and medicinal plants entrapped in dental calculus. Naturwissenschaften 99: 617–26.

A.G. Henry , A.S. Brooks & D.R. Piperno . 2011. Microfossils in calculus demonstrate consumption of plants and cooked foods in Neanderthal diets (Shanidar III, Iraq; Spy I and II, Belgium). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 108: 486–91.

J.-J. Hublin 2009. The prehistory of compassion. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 106: 6429–30.

N. Klein , F. Fröhlich & S. Krief . 2008. Geophagy: soil consumption enhances the bioactivities of plants eaten by chimpanzees. Naturwissenschaften 95: 325–31.

S. Krief , M.T. Martin , P. Grellier , J. Kasenene & T. Sévenet . 2004. Novel antimalarial compounds isolated in a survey of self-medicative behavior of wild chimpanzees in Uganda. Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy 48: 3196–99.

S. Krief , R.W. Wrangham & D. Lestel . 2006. Diversity of items of low nutritional value ingested by chimpanzees from Kanyawara, Kibale National Park, Uganda: an example of the etho-ethnology of chimpanzees. Social Science Information 45: 227–63.

C. Lalueza-Fox , A. Rosas , A. Estalrrich , E. Gigli , P.F. Campos , A. García-Tabernero , S. García-Vargas , F. Sánchez-Quinto , O. Ramírez , S. Civit , M. Bastir , R. Huguet , D. Santamaría , M.T.P. Gilbert , E. Willerslev & M. de la Rasilla . 2011. Genetic evidence for patrilocal mating behavior among Neanderthal groups. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 108: 250–53.

D. Lordkipanidze , A. Vekua , R. Ferring , G.P. Rightmire , J. Agusti , G. Kiladze , A. Mouskhelishvili , M. Nioradze , M. Ponce de León , M. Tappen & C.P.E. Zollikofer . 2005. Anthropology: the earliest toothless hominin skull. Nature 434: 717–18.

K. Hardy , S. Buckley & M. Huffman . 2013b. Neanderthal self-medication in context. Antiquity 87: 873–78.

D.L. McKay & J.B. Blumberg . 2006. A review of the bioactivity and potential health benefits of chamomile tea (Matricaria recutita L.). Phytotherapy Research 20: 519–30.

M.-H. Moncel , A-M. Moigne & J. Combier . 2012. Towards the Middle Paleolithic in Western Europe: the case of Orgnac 3 (south-eastern France). Journal of Human Evolution 63: 653–66.

A.K. Outram 2001. A new approach to identifying bone marrow grease exploitation: why the indeterminate fragments should not be ignored. Journal of Archaeological Science 28: 401–10.

W. Roebroecks & P. Villa . 2011. On the earliest evidence for habitual use of fire in Europe. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 108: 5209–14.

W. Roebroecks , M.J. Sier , T.K. Nielsen , D. De Loecker , J.M. Parès , C.E.S. Arps & H.J. Mücher . 2012. Use of red ochre by early Neandertals. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 109: 1889–94.

J.C. de Roode , T. Lefèvre & M.D. Hunter . 2013. Self-medication in animals. Science 340: 150–51.

P.W. Sherman & J. Billing . 1999. Darwinian gastronomy: why we use spices. BioScience 49: 453–63.

J.D. Speth 2010. The paleoanthropology and archaeology of big-game hunting: protein, fat, or politics? New York: Springer.

J.D. Speth & K.A. Spielmann . 1983. Energy source, protein metabolism, and hunter-gatherer subsistence strategies. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 2: 131.

V. Wobber , B. Hare & R. Wrangham . 2008. Great apes prefer cooked food. Journal of Human Evolution 55: 340–48.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
  • URL: /core/journals/antiquity
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 6
Total number of PDF views: 29 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 426 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 25th March 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.