Neanderthal bones found in an ancient Belgian cave show definite signs of cannibalism, according to a new research.

The Neanderthal bones found in Belgium date between 40,500 and 45,500 years old and they show undeniable evidence of cannibalism.

The image shows a rendering of the Neanderthals cooking and eating. Credit: NPR

In an article published in the journal Scientific Reports, scientists found cannibalism traces practiced by Neanderthals. The expedition and finding of the bones was conducted in the Goyet caves, in Belgium.

The research paper has unveiled that the team of scientists has identified 99 bone fragments and three teeth belonging to five Neanderthals. When assembled, the remains formed five human bodies: four adults and one child. All skeletons had marks of cannibalism. The bone’s rib cages were found to be opened, almost a third of the bones exhibited cut marks.

“These remains display a large proportion of cut marks caused by stone tools when the meat was cut, and the bones display fractures as a result of having been broken to extract the marrow. Some bones were also used as tools for shaping stone tools. These indications allow us to assume that Neanderthals practiced cannibalism,” said Hervé Bocherens from Tübingen’s Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment.

As per scientists, the bones present indentations (dent impressions) that might be caused due to a possible crush when attempting to extract the marrow.

“A third of the Neanderthal remains at this site display cut marks, and many bear percussion marks caused when the bones were crushed to extract the marrow. The comparison of the Neanderthal remains with other remains of fauna recovered on the site (horses and reindeer) suggests that the three species were consumed in a similar way. This discovery expands the range of known Neanderthal behavior in Northern Europe with respect to the dead,” said Bocherens.

Finding cannibalism in Neanderthal bones

The Neanderthal bones found in the Belgian were discovered among other animal bones. Bone belonging to reindeer and wild horses presented similar treatment that the one determined in The Neanderthals’.

Neanderthals’ larger bones, such as tibias and femurs, showed cuts and marrow removals. Apart from cuts, notches were also found in the bone fragments, evidence pointing out that the bodies were butchered by humans’ hands.

Such findings helped researchers to determine a definite conclusion towards previous speculations about Neanderthal cannibalism. Researchers have also stated that this is the first clear sign of cannibalistic behavior among the Neanderthal population that inhabited northern Europe.

At this time, it has been impossible to determine whether the behavior was part of a ceremony or if it was regular for Neanderthals to practice cannibalism. There is another thesis pointing out that Neanderthals resorted to eating their own kind due to desperation.

Considering that Neanderthals lived nearly 45,000 years ago, modern humans had not yet arrived in regions where they were set, so, they might have decided to butcher and eat each other and thus, the extinction of the species occurred.

The findings could help coming researchers to learn about how Neanderthal lived and interacted in their communities.

Source: Perf Science