The study of the dental plaque of Neanderthals suggests their diet may not have been restricted to meat. The findings from northern Spain reveal that plants were important to Neanderthal diets — and now a study reveals that those plants were roasted, and may have been used medicinally, too.

The finding comes from the El Sidrón Cave in northern Spain, where the roughly 50,000-year-old skeletal remains of at least 13 Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) have been discovered. Many of these individuals had calcified layers of plaque on their teeth.

Karen Hardy, an anthropologist at the Autonomous University of Barcelona in Spain, wondered whether it might be possible to use this plaque to take a closer look at the Neanderthal menu.

She investigated organic compounds in the plaque and with a team, including Stephen Buckley, an archaeological chemist at the University of York, she used gas chromatography and mass spectrometry to analyse the plaque collected from 10 teeth belonging to five Neanderthal individuals from the cave. The plaque contained a range of carbohydrates and starch granules, hinting that the Neanderthals had consumed a variety of plant species.

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