Tel Aviv University scientists have suggested that the “ice age diet” – in which Neanderthals ate high amounts of protein from large prey – accounted for their anatomical differences from Homo sapiens, the forerunner of modern man.
Neanderthals, who were heavyset and had larger rib cages and wider pelvises than the more modern and advanced Homo sapiens, lived on Earth until some 40,000 years ago. Neanderthals were quite similar to Homo sapiens with whom they sometimes mated, but they were also different, being shorter and stockier.
Prof. Avi Gopher, Prof. Ran Barkai and doctoral candidate Miki Ben-Dor – all from TAU’s Department of Archeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures – coauthored the study, which was recently published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.
According to the researchers, the total dependence of Neanderthals on large animals to meet their fat and protein needs may provide a clue to their eventual extinction, which took place at the same time as the beginning of the demise of giant animals or Megafauna in Europe some 50,000 years ago. The TAU scientists are now researching this subject.
According to the just-published article, the bell-shaped Neanderthal rib cage or thorax had to evolve to accommodate a larger liver, the organ responsible for metabolizing great quantities of protein into energy. This heightened metabolism also required an expanded renal system (enlarged bladder and kidneys) to remove large amounts of toxic urea, possibly resulting in the wide Neanderthal pelvis.