Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 2/7/2014 (1000 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Every once in a while you stumble on a scientific discovery so totally shocking it leaves you totally shocked. That's exactly how I felt during the holiday weekend when I spotted an online news item that appeared under this alarming headline: Oldest human poop study says Neanderthals ate their veggies!
Scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of La Laguna in Spain were rooting around in a Spanish archeological site recently when they made a shocking discovery.
Yes, they were able to figure out why the Kardashians are famous. Ha ha ha! Sorry, I am just joshing. The Kardashians are a mystery no one will ever solve.
What the scientists found -- prepare to be bowled over -- were five samples of the oldest known human poop. Seriously, they dug up 50,000-year-old fossilized Neanderthal poop. How did the scientists react? Naturally, they were totally grossed out and doused themselves with hand sanitizer.
That's what you and I would have done. But these were not normal people. No, these were scientists, so what they did was become incredibly excited. They took the Neanderthal poop back to their lab at MIT, where, using state-of-the-art poop grinders, they reduced it to a fine powder, which they analyzed to determine (why not?) what kind of food our long-extinct kin ate back in the day.
Which brings us to the amazing discovery -- the scientists proved that, while Neanderthals were serious meat eaters, they also enjoyed chowing down on veggies.
It seems two of the cave poop samples contained a compound that is made when plants are broken down in the digestive process -- 5B stigmastanol, which sounds like a dinosaur, but isn't -- the first direct evidence for the theory that, from time to time, cavemen whetted their appetites with a nice salad, as we see from the following historically accurate conversation:
First Neanderthal: "Hey, Grok, how about a couple of tasty mammoth steaks fresh from the fire, which I discovered right after inventing the wheel?"
Second Neanderthal: "Ooh, no thanks, Gronk! I'm watching my figure. I'll just nibble on some of these slimy green things from the swamp."
Now I am no scientist -- I do not even own a pocket protector -- but I'm afraid it's only a matter of time before they unearth a fossilized pair of Birkenstock sandals, or possibly the oldest known bowl of quinoa.
As you can imagine, the researchers were shocked by the veggie discovery. This is because, like most normal people, their knowledge of what cave persons put in their bellies was based on watching old episodes of The Flintstones, a highly realistic 1960s cartoon series featuring the scientifically plausible antics of a "modern Stone Age family" consisting of Fred, his wife, Wilma, their daughter, Pebbles, and a pet dinosaur named Dino.
At the beginning of every episode, during the catchy theme song -- "When you're with the Flintstones, you'll have a yabba dabba doo time, a dabba doo time..." -- Fred would take Wilma to the drive-in restaurant in the town of Bedrock, where a waitress would bring them an order of brontosaurus ribs, which were so (very bad prehistoric word) gigantic they would cause the Flintstones' foot-powered cave car -- essentially two giant rock rolling pins held together by logs -- to tip over on its side.
But now, thanks to some know-it-all scientists, the rug has been pulled out from under our calloused meat-eating feet, throwing our understanding of prehistoric food choices into chaos. Even though Brussels sprouts and broccoli were never featured in a single episode, it would appear prehistoric veggies were, in fact, a staple of the Flintstones' diet.
This is excellent news for people who have never eaten meat. Scientists refer to these people as "my son's girlfriend," who refuses to try meat, even though I politely offer to make her a cheeseburger or a BLT every time she visits. "Ewwww!" she will groan when I dangle a juicy pork chop under her nose. "That is soooo GROSS!!!"
My wife was a bit too enthusiastic when she heard about the 50,000-year-old veggie-poop discovery. She callously suggested that, just maybe, it was about time for me to incorporate something green into my diet.
I suppose if it was good enough for Neanderthals, it might be good enough for me, too. So I may be willing to let my wife sneak the odd asparagus spear onto my plate.
Just don't expect me to get all "yabba dabba doo" about iceberg lettuce.