Evidence That Belgian Neanderthals Cannibalized Their Dead and Fashioned Tools out of Their Bones

July 8, 2016 | Erica Tennenhouse

Photo credit: Scientific Reports ISSN 2045-2322 (online)

The real paleo diet included cannibalism.

Our hominid ancestors were eating each other as far back as 800,000 years ago, and the practice of cannibalism continues in modern humans to the present day in some pockets of the world.

Thus, it comes as no surprise that Neanderthals practiced cannibalism too. Evidence of this behavior has been discovered at sites in France and on the Iberian Peninsula.

A new study published in the journal Scientific Reports shows the first evidence of cannibalism among Neanderthals north of the Alps, and the first known instance of Neanderthal remains having been used as tools to shape stone.

See also: Human and Neanderthal Interbreeding Suggests Major Evolutionary Timeline Change

99 skeletal remains belonging to at least 5 individuals discovered in the Goyet caves in Belgium — 4 adolescents or adults and one child —  represent the single largest cache of Neanderthal bones ever found in northern Europe. Radiocarbon dating revealed the remains were around 40,500 to 45,500 years old.

Many of the bones bear cut and percussion marks that indicate the bodies were butchered, skinned, cut up, and their bone marrow was extracted, according to the study.

"The many remains of horses and reindeer found in Goyet were processed the same way," said study co-author Hervé Bocherens from the University of Tübingen, Germany, in a press release. He adds, “These indications allow us to assume that Neanderthals practised cannibalism.”

As the authors note, it is still unclear whether modifications observed on the Neanderthal remains represent symbolic practices or if the butchering was carried out simply for food.

Additionally, four of the bones — one thigh bone and three shinbones — were clearly used to shape stone tools. Animal bones were frequently used for this purpose. "That Neanderthal bones were used for this purpose — that's something we had seen at very few sites, and nowhere as frequently as in Goyet," Bocherens said.

The research highlights the diverse ways in which Neanderthals dealt with their dead, from burial practices to cannibalism, in the period immediately preceding their disappearance.

You might also like: New Map Reveals How Much Neanderthal and Denisovan Blood Is in You

Hot Topics

Facebook comments