Mammoth ivory ornaments from the examined site bear witness to the importance of the mammoth. (Photo: L. Crépin)
Read What sizzled by the fire and saturated our ancestors as they spread across Europe and supplanted the Neanderthals? Isotope analyzes of fossils of modern humans in Europe now prove: Similar to the Neanderthals, they feasted on mammoth meat as well as vegetable food - however, the researchers did not find any clues to much fish in the diet of the newcomers. This result therefore contradicts the assumption that the Homo sapiens in Europe outperformed the Neanderthals by a more flexible diet. Rather, they were apparently in a competition for mammoths.

Migration from time immemorial: Anthropologists currently assume that modern man spread to Europe around 43, 000 years ago. There he came across his archaic cousin - the Neanderthal man - whose ancestors had first settled in Europe long before. Although some Neanderthals entered the new population, as their genetic heritage documents in us, modern humans eventually supplanted their relatives. It took him about 3, 000 years to do this, he says. "Many studies deal with the question of how this repression came about. One hypothesis states that the anatomically modern humans ate more varied and flexible and also often took fish, "explains Hervé Bocherens from the University of Tübingen.

Refined view of the menu

To shed light on dietary habits despite the lack of leftover food, the international team has studied the levels of stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes in the bones of early humans and from food sources as well as potential prey animals. Mammoths, saigas, horses, deer or fish came into question. The human remains were the oldest known European fossil finds in the Buran Kaya Caves on the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea. "We looked at the findings of the early humans in the context of the fauna living there once, " explains co-author Dorothée Drucker. "So far, all analysis of the diet of early modern humans has come from isolated finds and are therefore difficult to interpret."

The results of the analysis showed: "The anatomically modern humans had a very high proportion of the nitrogen isotope 15N, " reports Bocherens. "These are not - as previously suspected - of the inclusion of fish products, but mainly of mammoths, " emphasizes the anthropologist. Regarding herbal diets, the proportion of this food source was higher in anatomically modern humans than in comparable Neanderthal finds, but in both species mammoths appeared to have been one of the major food sources, the researchers say.

Competition for mammoths

According to them, this sheds light on possible reasons for the relatively rapid disappearance of the Neanderthal man: "According to our results, Neanderthals and the early modern humans were in direct competition with regard to their diet, " says Drucker. "The Neanderthals probably lost the competition in this competition, " says the anthropologist. What exactly could have been the reasons for a disadvantage, however, remains an exciting question. display

Original work of the researchers:

  • Senckenberg Research Institute and Nature Museums
© science.de - Martin Vieweg
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