Neanderthal Study Argues The Original Paleo Diet Included Flavorful Herbs

As you’ve surely figured out by now, especially if you’re Facebook friends with any Crossfit enthusiasts, the fastest-growing diet of the past few years is the Paleo diet. It restricts adherents’ food intake to ingredients that were — at least theoretically — consumed by hominids in the Paleolithic Age, which ended sometime around 10,000 B.C.E. That means no wheat, no sugar, no alcohol and certainly no artificial additives.

Paleo is surely one of the most imaginatively daring diets ever devised. The underpinning idea is that the key to ideal health is to return, as much as possible, to the way our ancestors ate in some Edenic past before agriculture, urban life or written history, when our dietary choices were governed by inborn animalistic impulses rather than societal morays. By connecting the waning of man’s health and vigor with the waxing of agriculture, Paleo’s supporters tap into beliefs about human history so fundamental that they’re encoded in the Book of Genesis. It may be the true source of Paleo’s popularity isn’t so much its demonstrated health benefits as the near-universal potency of the story of the fall.

But the more scientists learn about our distant ancestors, the less basic this pre-historic idyll seems. The latest salvo comes in the form of an article about the dietary habits of Neanderthals, published in the April issue of the journal Antiquity.

The study’s authors, led by French anthropologist Sabrina Krief, draw on a 2012 study of a cache of 50,000-year-old Neanderthal remains found in a cave in northern Spain. The team behind the earlier study, which was led by Spanish archeologist Karen Hardy, found traces of chemicals embedded in the Spanish Neanderthal’s teeth that derive from two herbs, chamomile and yarrow. Because chamomile and yarrow are known to —> Read More