Neanderthals Feasted on The Semi-Digested Food They Found in the Stomachs of Their Prey

A girl looks through the replica of a neanderthal skull displayed in the new Neanderthal Museum in the northern town of Krapina February 25, 2010. REUTERS/Nikola Solic

It might sound gross, but stomach contents of animals are perfectly edible, at least to Neanderthals. New research analyzing the plaque on Neanderthal teeth indicates that some ate a strange substance called "chyme."

To get chyme, you open up the stomach of a slaughtered animal. There, you'll find the prey's last meal, partially digested, combined with stomach acid. It looks like an unappetizing, usually green goop.

Recently, researchers published a study reviewing literature on Neanderthal diets based on the thick tartar, or calculus, that had built up on the teeth of ancient specimens. Past research had found that northern Neanderthals ate a lot of meat, and southern Neanderthals were more omnivorous. Surprisingly, some Neanderthals appeared to have eaten the herbs yarrow and chamomile, which taste bad and don't have much nutritional value.

Some researchers have suggested that Neanderthals ate these plants for their health properties, demonstrating that the ancient hominids knew how to self-medicate. However, the new research hypothesizes that Neanderthals didn't directly consume those plants, but instead found them pre-eaten in the sludge inside animal stomachs, as reported by Science News.

The research was published in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews.

Why eat plants from inside an animal when you can just find them in nature? The consumption of chyme is more popular with people who live among animals, but who have a hard time finding edible plant matter.

For example, reindeer paw through ice to find and eat lichen, which is hard for humans to do. But once the reindeer have found and eaten the best plants, Inuit people who otherwise would eat lots of meat can get a little vitamin C and other vitamins and minerals in their diet, too by eating the stomach contents of their slaughtered reindeer. To most westerners, the practice might sound nauseating, but anyone who knows how modern hot dogs are made might find one practice just as bad as the other.

If correct, this hypothesis about Neanderthals suggests that a true Paleo diet might include eating not only the flesh of animals, but also whatever you find inside them.