Pacific Science Center

Bringing science to life.

PacSci-Doku: “Neanderthal’s Dinner”

By Dennis Schatz – Senior Advisor

Do you Sudoku? It’s one of the hottest number games around! Well, here’s a twist we think you’ll love. We call it PacSci-Doku. Can you guess why? Here’s how it works. Instead of filling in the blanks with numbers, we use letters. Hidden in one of the columns or rows is the answer to a science question. You’ll find information about the answer on the answer tab below.

The question in this edition is:

What microscopic material tells us what Neanderthals ate?

To find the answer, complete this PacSci-Doku using the following nine letters:

I  E  A  U  M  T  B  C  R

PacSci-Doku: Neanderthal's Dinner

The Puzzle

Puzzle Difficulty: Easy

The Answer
PacSci-Doku: Neanderthal's Dinner Answer

The Puzzle Solution

The question in this edition is:

What microscopic material tells us what Neanderthal’s ate?

The answer: Bacterium

It would be great if we could explore the contents of Neanderthal’s stomach, but the soft organs of ancient humans usually rot away, so we cannot use the stomach contents to determine what Neanderthals ate thousands of years after they walked on the Earth. But Neanderthal’s teeth do survive and contain bacteria that indicate what they ate. Scientists from the University of Adelaide recently studied four Neanderthals that lived 42,000 to 50,000 years ago – and found some amazing discoveries.

Analysis of Neanderthal teeth found near what is now Belgium showed they ate woolly rhinoceros, sheep and edible mushrooms. Neanderthals that lived near what is now Spain seemed to be vegetarians, eating mushrooms, pine nuts and moss.

One Neanderthal, who was suffering from a tooth abscess, had traces of salicylic acid DNA (the active ingredient in aspirin) in his teeth, plus pieces of the fungus Penicillium (which produces the antibiotic penicillin). This makes some scientists wonder if Neanderthals knew enough to medicate themselves – definitely the sign of an intelligent human.

Read more about this research, which was recently written up in the scientific journal Nature.