Neanderthal diets are reported to be based mainly on the consumption of large and medium sized herbivores, while the exploitation of other food types including plants has also been demonstrated. Though some studies conclude that early Homo sapiens were active hunters, the analyses of faunal assemblages, stone tool technologies and stable isotopic studies indicate that they exploited broader dietary resources than Neanderthals. Whereas previous studies assume taxon-specific dietary specializations, we suggest here that the diet of both Neanderthals and early Homo sapiens is determined by ecological conditions. We analyzed molar wear patterns using occlusal fingerprint analysis derived from optical 3D topometry. Molar macrowear accumulates during the lifespan of an individual and thus reflects diet over long periods. Neanderthal and early Homo sapiens maxillary molar macrowear indicates strong eco-geographic dietary variation independent of taxonomic affinities. Based on comparisons with modern hunter-gatherer populations with known diets, Neanderthals as well as early Homo sapiens show high dietary variability in Mediterranean evergreen habitats but a more restricted diet in upper latitude steppe/coniferous forest environments, suggesting a significant consumption of high protein meat resources.
Fiorenza, L., Benazzi, S., Tausch, J., Kullmer, O., Bromage, T. G. & Schrenk, F. (2011). Molar Macrowear Reveals Neanderthal Eco-Geographic Dietary Variation. PLoS ONE, 6(3), e14769. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0014769.