"I think we can only compare them to modern humans in their
social skills and behaviour, which allowed them to survive against
all these odds."
The ageing individual - whom palaeoanthropologists estimate lost his teeth some years before
death - would not have been able to
chew the raw meat or fibrous plants which made up the creatures'
For most animals other than humans - and their now extinct
cousins the Neanderthal - this would have been a death sentence.
But, Professor Ferring believes, this "old man" must have been kept
alive by being fed the choice soft morsels like brain, marrow and
"Cooking was not in the equation and it is inconceivable that he
would have been able to eat raw meat," he said. "So he must have
consumed much more than his share of these very choice soft foods.
"He was either being cared for or being given very preferential
Whether his group was just being kind, or whether there was an
ulterior motive, can only be guessed at. It is possible, according
to Professor Ferring, that the toothless man was an extremely useful
member of his society.
"It is unclear whether he could contribute to the livelihood of
the whole group in terms of procuring food and defending the group
and caring for young," Professor Ferring said. Elderly members of
the group may also have been valuable for cultural reasons, just as
in modern societies.
The professor added: "This person might have had a function similar
to old people in hunter gatherer societies - his experience and
knowledge may have given him high status."