Neanderthals were foodies who likely cooked pancakes and cereals

Neanderthals, the closest evolutionary relatives of present-day humankind who lived up until 40,000 years ago, may very well have been the foodies, revealed the findings of an excavation in Northern Iraq. Among the remnants of what could be the oldest cooked meal ever found, were bits of  “really palatable” pancake-cum-flatbread, prompting credible assertions that Neanderthals had a thriving food culture and did not survive on uncooked animal flesh or plant berries.

The research, published in Cambridge University’s ‘Antiquity’ journal, said that one of the four fragments of the food remains “strongly resembles experimental preparations and archaeobotanical examples of charred bread-like foods or finely ground cereal meals”. 

The burned food remnants were recovered from the Shanidar Cave site, an ancient Neanderthal dwelling 500 miles north of Baghdad in the Zagros Mountains.

“Our findings are the first real indication of complex cooking – and thus of food culture – among Neanderthals,” Chris Hunt, a professor of cultural paleoecology at Liverpool John Moores University, who coordinated the excavation, said in a statement.

The researchers said that just like modern human beings, plant consumption by Neanderthals was a widespread source of nutrition, in addition to the consumption of meat. Nuts and grasses were often combined with pulses as well as wild mustard. 

“Because the Neanderthals had no pots, we presume that they soaked their seeds in a fold of an animal skin,” Chris Hunt added. 

The researchers concluded that the findings from Shanidar Cave site demonstrate that food choices and preparation practices traditionally associated with the intensification of plant resource use and the origin of farming clearly have a deep history that predates the earliest evidence of crop farming by several tens of thousands of years.

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