Archaeology

Stress in Neanderthal children

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Science  02 Nov 2018:
Vol. 362, Issue 6414, pp. 554
DOI: 10.1126/science.362.6414.554-b

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  • RE: Seasonal nutritional stress in Neanderthal children
    • Marc Verhaegen, Medical Doctor, Study Center for Anthropology, B-2580 Belgium.

    Many thanks. Very intriguing article. Nutritional fluctuations indeed help explain the dental defects of these Neanderthal children, but biological evidence (e.g. comparative anatomy, isotopic data) suggest that, contrary to the traditional belief, it was not necessarily the winter-time in the first place that caused the malnutrition. Oxygen and nitrogen isotopes show that Neanderthals were no "top predators": their diet was not "supercarnivorous" (you can't be more carnivorous than felids), but rather intermediate between freshwater and marine (e.g. M. Richards 2007 p.223-234 in W. Roebroeks ed. "Guts and Brains" Leiden UP, and C. Wißing et al. 2016 Quat. Internat. 411 p.327-345), and comparative and paleo-environmental evidence suggests that European Neanderthals were wetland omnivores who seasonally followed the rivers to the Atlantic or Mediterranean coasts (e.g. google "Coastal Dispersal of Pleistocene Homo 2018 biology vs anthropocentrism"). Sea- and other aquatic foods are richest in essential nutrients for humans (e.g. S. Cunnane 2005 "Survival of the Fattest" World Scient.), so the dental defects in the Neanderthal children might be due to the seasonal lack of rich waterside or shallow-aquatic foods, rather than to the winter season.

    Competing Interests: None declared.

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