Ancient Poop Suggests Neanderthals Ate Way More Veggies Than We Thought

Meat-heavy "paleo diets" have been all the rage in recent years. But if you really want to eat like a caveman, you may have to eat more veggies than you might have expected.

A new study suggests that Neanderthals consumed way more vegetables than scientists once thought -- and the evidence for that finding came from a pretty unexpected place: ancient poop.

Or, more specifically, traces of Neanderthal feces taken from a Spanish cave.

"It is the first direct evidence of plant consumption among Neanderthals," study co-author Ainara Sistiaga, a visiting researcher at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told The Huffington Post in an email. "This species is traditionally pictured as highly carnivorous."

oldest human poopA view of El Salt archeological site, where the poop samples were found in sediment.

For the study, Sistiaga and her colleagues at MIT and the University of La Laguna in Tenerife, Spain did a microscopic analysis of five sediment samples with remnants of the 50,000-year-old poop. The scientists searched for biomarkers known to be evidence of consumption of either meat or plants.

"Human fecal biomarkers are metabolic products of digestion and they provide invaluable information about relative proportions of animal and plant intake," Sistiaga said in the email.

What did the analysis show? The biomarkers indicated that, yes, Neanderthals ate a lot of meat but they consumed lots of vegetables too.

Previous research showed that Neanderthals ate their greens, but those studies were based on clues found in fossilized teeth.

This new study was published in the journal Plos One on June 25, 2014.