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Prehistoric World

Hungry Neanderthals 'Turned Cannibal'

Edited from BBC News, 5 December 2006

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 faces.

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.

Neanderthal Sites
Principal sites showing the most recent evidence of Neanderthals - notice how the later populations are all congregated in Iberia



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