Washington, February 8 : In what may enable scientists to advance their understanding of the eating habits of early humans, a doctoral student studying hominid paleobiology has devised a way to analyse reindeer bones from around 65,000 to 12,000 years ago.
J. Tyler Faith says that early humans flocked to reindeer meat when the temperature dropped.
"We see a steady increase in the abundance of reindeer, associated with declines in summer temperature," Faith said.
With a view to improving his understanding of the relationship between early humans and animals, and of how this was affected by changes in the environment, Faith analysed bones from the Grotte XVI archaeological site in southern France.
Although Faith's findings help understand the differences between Neanderthals and the modern man, he says that differences in hunting behaviour cannot explain why Neanderthals dropped out of existence between 40,000 and 50,000 years ago.
"Variation in the types of animals hunted and the parts of those animals that were exploited and processed by the human and Neanderthal occupants of Grotte XVI can be explained largely by environmental change, rather than behavioural or technological differences," Faith said.
In an interview with Discovery News, University of Washington professor and a renowned Grotte XVI researcher Donald Grayson said that Faith's study was "important, insightful and innovative".
Faith has previously worked to develop "quantitative methods for measuring changes in how humans butchered and transported large animal remains."
He has also done research at the Shompole conservation area in southern Kenya, where he studied animal bones as a way to understand living wildlife.
The researcher, who recently submitted his work to the Journal of Human Evolution, hopes to determine whether human hunting pressure or changes to the environment contributed to the extinction of large mammals.
Faith says that he hopes to continue researching in East and southern Africa after he receives his Ph.D., and eventually hopes to become a professor at a research-oriented university.
"I have had a great time at GWU - I couldn't be happier anywhere else. I was excited by the many research opportunities available here in my program and at the National Museum of Natural History," Faith said.