You are what you eat. Paleoanthropologists from the United Kingdom and the United States recently used this principle to study the dietary habits of Neandertals and the earliest modern humans.1 By analyzing different forms (isotopes) of carbon and nitrogen from bone collagen (fibrous protein in bones), these investigators determined the sources of protein in Neandertal and early human diets. They found that the protein in the Neandertal diet came almost exclusively from the consumption of terrestrial herbivores. In contrast, the first humans (living 30,000 to 40,000 years ago) consumed a variegated diet—foods from freshwater wetlands, sea coasts, and dry terrestrial regions that included fish, mollusks, fowl, and terrestrial herbivores.
At the time of their earliest appearance, humans displayed a far greater proficiency in obtaining food from their environment than did Neandertals. The dietary difference likely reflects an important disparity in cognitive capacity. Early human capacity to access protein from a wide range of sources suggests superior intelligence. Neandertals apparently lacked the ability to adjust their diet as circumstances demanded.
Recent advances in research on Neandertal genetics and morphology (body structure) indicate no evolutionary connection between Neandertals and modern humans.2 These discoveries support the view, from a Christian standpoint, that Neandertals were created as bipedal primates with some intellectual and emotional capacity.3 Though made by God, Neandertals possessed no spiritual component to their being, and thus, were not humans.
Some people are troubled by any view that regards Neandertals as spiritless primates. They tend to over-ascribe human qualities to Neandertals, as well as to other bipedal primates. They think that this view makes Neandertals a spiritless race of pre-Adamites. The stark difference between the diets and lifestyles of Neandertal and early humans, however, is one piece of evidence against any view that regards Neandertals as spiritless humans. Though possessing the capability to walk upright, Neandertals displayed an intellectual capacity qualitatively different from that of humans.
These cognitive differences reflected in human and Neandertal food acquisition are fully consistent with the morphological and genetic differences that rule out evolutionary relationships between the two. The limited cognitive capacity of Neandertals also helps properly place them within a creation framework consistent with God’s written word.