The fossils were from the excavation site at Payre in southeastern France. Carbonate is an essential mineral component of the hard tissue in bones and teeth. Among other things, the isotope composition in the carbonate reflects an organism’s drinking and feeding habits.
If the climate becomes cooler or warmer, species are forced to adapt their survival strategies – this also holds true for our ancestors, the extinct Neanderthals.
In order to gain insights into the environment these young Neanderthals inhabited, Professor Dr. Hervé Bocherens of the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment at the University of Tübingen and colleagues also examined the isotope composition in the carbonate from herbivorous and carnivorous large mammals. “The carbon and oxygen isotopes of the horses, red deer, rhinoceroses, wolves and hyenas that lived during this time period were stable. We can therefore assume that no changes in the environmental conditions occurred during that time.”
Based on the collagen in bones, it had only been possible to date to gather information on fossils that are younger than 100,000 years. After this time, bones only very rarely contain any usable collagen. However, in the tooth enamel, carbonate and the information contained therein is preserved significantly longer.
The Neanderthal fossils reveal that one group primarily hunted rhinos and horses in the valley, while the other group specialized in hunting red deer on the high plateau. “Around the same time, our ancestors in Schöningen used wooden spears to hunt horses. We can thus recognize three different methods that were used 250,000 years ago to tap into the environmental resources and utilize them. At that time, hominids had reached a point that clearly led to the behavior of modern humans,” adds Bocherens.
Citation: Hervé Bocherens, Marta Díaz-Zorita Bonilla, Camille Daujeard, Paul Fernandes, Jean-Paul Raynal, Marie-Hélène Moncel, Direct isotopic evidence for subsistence variability in Middle Pleistocene Neanderthals (Payre, southeastern France), Quaternary Science Reviews, Volume 154, 15 December 2016, Pages 226-236, ISSN 0277-3791, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.quascirev.2016.11.004.