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Home » New discovery reveals Neanderthal cannibalism in northern Europe

New discovery reveals Neanderthal cannibalism in northern Europe

Stone tools, once wielded by , left a distinct mark on the bones found in the Troisième cavern in Goyet, Belgium. Asier Gómez-Olivencia, an Ikerbasque researcher at UPV/EHU-University of the Basque Country, collaborated on a study led by Dr Hélène Rougier, revealing the largest cache of Neanderthal remains in northern Europe.

These remains, representing five individuals, including four adolescents or adults and one child, shed light on the diverse behaviors of Neanderthals. The bones bear testimony to a range of activities, from cutting meat with stone tools to using bones as implements for shaping other tools. Notably, a third of the Neanderthal remains show cut marks, and many exhibit percussion marks from bone-crushing to extract marrow.

The significance of this discovery lies not only in the number of remains but also in the breadth of activities inferred from the . The comparison of Neanderthal bones with those of horses and reindeer found at the site suggests a commonality in consumption practices, expanding our understanding of Neanderthal behavior in Northern Europe, particularly concerning their treatment of the deceased.

While some Neanderthal sites indicate burial practices, such as in Feldhofer, Germany, and Spy, Belgium, the Troisième cavern adds a nuanced dimension to the Neanderthal narrative. This find reinforces the variability in Neanderthal behavior, showcasing their adaptability and resourcefulness in utilizing both stone tools and the remains of their kin and prey. The collaboration between researchers like Asier Gómez-Olivencia and Dr Hélène Rougier underscores the interdisciplinary efforts enriching our comprehension of Neanderthal life and customs.

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, and femur III (right) bears cut marks indicating the processing of remains during butchery activities. Femur III also bears signs of retouching left behind after being used to retouch the edges of stone tools. Scale = 1 cm. Credit: Asier Gómez-Olivencia et al.

Adding to the intrigue, five Neanderthal remains found at the Troisième cavern in Goyet, Belgium, unveil a unique facet of their resourcefulness. These individuals weren't just subjects of archaeological interest but active contributors to tool-making. Evidence suggests that their bones served as soft percussors, shaping stones in a manner similar to the use of boulders and deer bones for tool refinement found in sites like Azlor in Dima, Bizkaia.

The practice of utilizing fellow Neanderthal remains for tool crafting is a rare . Previous instances include a femur fragment in Krapina, Croatia, and Les Pradelles, as well as a skull fragment at La Quina, France. Remarkably, Goyet stands out by providing a trove of five human remains repurposed as retouchers, nearly doubling the known record for a single site.

Not only do these findings shed light on Neanderthals' inventive use of available resources, but they also offer a glimpse into their temporal existence. places these Neanderthals in a window between 40,500 and 45,500 years ago. The exceptionally preserved collection further allows for the extraction of mitochondrial DNA, revealing a surprising uniformity among Neanderthals across different regions.

Comparisons with DNA from other Neanderthals, such as those from Feldhofer (Germany), Vindija (Croatia), and El Sidrón (Asturias, Spain), highlight a striking genetic similarity. Despite geographical distances, this suggests a small and closely connected Neanderthal population in Europe during this timeframe. The Troisième cavern not only provides a unique archaeological snapshot but also enriches our understanding of Neanderthal adaptability, creativity, and genetic dynamics in prehistoric Europe.

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