A Neandertal dietary conundrum: Insights provided by tooth enamel Zn isotopes from Gabasa, Spain.
The characterization of Neandertals' diets has mostly relied on nitrogen isotope analyses of bone and tooth collagen. However, few nitrogen isotope data have been recovered from bones or teeth from Iberia due to poor collagen preservation at Paleolithic sites in the region. Zinc isotopes have been shown to be a reliable method for reconstructing trophic levels in the absence of organic matter preservation. Here, we present the results of zinc (Zn), strontium (Sr), carbon (C), and oxygen (O) isotope and trace element ratio analysis measured in dental enamel on a Pleistocene food web in Gabasa, Spain, to characterize the diet and ecology of a Middle Paleolithic Neandertal individual. Based on the extremely low δZn value observed in the Neandertal's tooth enamel, our results support the interpretation of Neandertals as carnivores as already suggested by δN isotope values of specimens from other regions. Further work could help identify if such isotopic peculiarities (lowest δZn and highest δN of the food web) are due to a metabolic and/or dietary specificity of the Neandertals.