Starvation and cannibalism were part of everyday
life for a population of Neanderthals living in northern Spain
43,000 years ago, as suggested by a 2006 study.
According to researchers who were part of the
study, bones and teeth from the underground cave system at El
Sidron in Asturias bore the hallmarks of a tough struggle for
survival. Analysis of teeth showed signs of starvation or
malnutrition in childhood and human bones had cut marks on them.
Details of the study appeared in the 'Proceedings
of the National Academy of Sciences'. It showed that some bones
appeared to have been dismembered and broken open, possibly to
allow access to marrow and brains. Given the high level of
developmental stress in the sample, some level of survival
cannibalism would be reasonable.
The team was led by Dr Antonio Rosas from the
National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid. They also found
that the bones shared physical features with other European
Neanderthals from the same period. Dr Rosas and colleagues found
a north-south variation in Neanderthal jaw bones, suggesting that
populations from southern parts of Europe had wider, flatter
It was hoped that the findings could help shed
light on the life and death of the Neanderthals, which became
extinct about 12,000 years after the arrival of modern humans
in Europe around 40,000 years ago. At the time of the report's
release, and later, many experts believed they were not able to
compete with the moderns for food and shelter.
Eight Neanderthal skeletons were found at El
Sidron between 2000 and 2006.
Principal sites showing the most recent evidence of Neanderthals
- notice how the later populations are all congregated in Iberia