Neanderthals Were Cannibals

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Neanderthals were our close relatives. They were sharing with us 99.7% of DNA. Scientists from the University of Oxford estimated that they extinct between 41,000 and 39,000 years ago. The first neanderthal skull was discovered in the Engis caves, Belgium by Dutch/Belgian prehistorian Philippe-Charles Schmerling. Thereafter, there was a series of discoveries that have helped us to get to know Neanderthals. Most recently, new findings happened, that triggered new study about their eating habits.

What we know so far about Neanderthals

They belonged to the species Homo neanderthal enosis. They lived in the Western Europe, Central Europe, the Carpathians, and the Balkans. Probably, the entire population was 70,000. The Neanderthal genome project revealed that Neanderthals interbreed with modern humans between 50,000 and 60,000 years ago. Physically compared to homo sapiens, they had shorter limb proportions, a wider, barrel-shaped rib cage, a reduced chin, and a large nose. The average height of males was 164-168 and females 152-156. They were significantly stronger than modern humans.
When we speak about their behavior, neanderthals were social beings. They lived in the group and probably have their own language. They were capable to made advanced tools and even built the shelters from animal bones. Neanderthals were exceptional predators. As a carnivorous, they were successful in hunting the small and large animals. One study also revealed that they practiced burial behavior, which means they buried their dead. So, we have a pretty clear image on their life habits. However, new findings in the Belgium caves give us a surprise.

Reconstruction of Neanderthal man.

Newborn Bones Revealed The Cannibalism

In an archaeological place in Belgium, Troisieme cavern researchers found the bones of a newborn and four adults. The signs show that they lived 40, 000 years ago. But signs showed something else too: a large proportion of cut marks caused by stone tools. These marks were caused by cutting the flesh from bones. Archaeologist Christian Casseyas called this remains “irrefutable evidence of cannibalism”. Further examinations also displayed that the bones having been used as soft percussion to shape stone.

The highly fragmented Neanderthal collection of the third cave at Goyet represents at least five individuals. Dating indicates that the ones marked with an asterisk go back to between 40,500 and 45,500 years ago. Scale=3cm Credit: Asier Gómez-Olivencia et al.

The way the bones were broken is the same way as the horse’s bones found in front of the cave. Earlier assumptions that Neanderthals were cannibals happened when was found the remains in France and Iberian Peninsula. This is the first time that is officially confirmed cannibalism behavior. Why they ate their dead? Archaeologist Christian Casseyas said: “Was it systematic? Was it only at certain particular moments? I don’t know how to interpret the reason behind this cannibalism. It can be purely food, but it can also be symbolic. The reason remains open”.

The different categories of anthropogenic modifications found on Neanderthal bones at Goyet. Femur I (left) displays signs of having been used as a percussor for shaping stone. Credit: Asier Gómez-Olivencia et al.

 

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