The caves that prove Neanderthals were cannibals

December 30, 2016
Reconstruction of Neanderthal man. Credit: public domain

Deep in the caves of Goyet in Belgium researchers have found the grisly evidence that the Neanderthals did not just feast on horses or reindeer, but also on each other.

Human bones from a newborn, a child and four adults or teenagers who lived around 40,000 years ago show clear signs of cutting and of fractures to extract the marrow within, they say.

"It is irrefutable, cannibalism was practised here," says Belgian archaeologist Christian Casseyas as he looks inside a cave halfway up a valley in this site in the Ardennes forest.

The bones in Goyet date from when Neanderthals were nearing the end of their time on earth before being replaced by Homo sapiens, with whom they also interbred.

Once regarded as primitive cavemen driven to extinction by smarter modern humans, studies have found that Neanderthals were actually sophisticated beings who took care of the bodies of the deceased and held burial rituals.

But there is a growing body of proof that they also ate their dead.

Neanderthal bone fragments

Cases of Neanderthal cannibalism have been found until now only in Neanderthal populations in southern Europe in Spain, at El Sidron and Zafarraya, and in France, at Moula-Guercy and Les Pradelles.

The caves at Goyet have been occupied since the Paleolithic era. The 250-metre- (820-feet-) long galleries were dug into the limestone by the Samson, a small stream that still flows a few metres below.

They began to reveal their secrets in the middle of the 19th century thanks to one of the fathers of palaeontology, Edouard Dupont (1841-1911).

A geologist and director of the Royal Museum of Natural History of Belgium, he searched several caves, including that of Goyet in 1867, and collected an enormous quantity of bones and tools.

Just a few years after Charles Darwin first expounded his theory of evolution, Dupont published the results of his own research in his book "Man During the Stone Age".

But his discoveries remained in the archives of the museum (now called the Brussels Institute of Natural Sciences) for more than a century.

That was until 2004, when the institute's head of anthropology Patrick Semal discovered, hidden in amongst the drawers of what Dupont thought were , a jaw tip that clearly belonged to a Neanderthal.

Scientists have since been painstakingly sorting through fragments that Dupont thought were to see if there are other traces of ancient man.

'Extract the marrow'

Now an international team led by Helene Rougier, an anthropologist at California State University Northridge in the United States, has proved from the bones found at Goyet that the Neanderthals there were cannibals.

The bones show traces of cutting, "to disarticulate and remove the flesh," said Christian Casseyas, who also leads tours for the public at the caves.

The Neanderthals "broke these bones in the same way that they broke those of the reindeer and horses found at the entrance of the cave, certainly to extract the marrow", he adds.

Rougier, whose work on the Belgian cave was published last July by Scientific Reports, a journal of the Nature group, told AFP that "indeed, we can conclude that some Neanderthals died and were eaten here", which is a first in Northern Europe.

"Some of these bones have also been used to make tools to touch up the edges of flints to re-sharpen them," says Rougier.

But the reasons for the cannibalism remain a mystery, as to the extent to which the Neanderthals ate their dead.

"Was it systematic? Was it only at certain particular moments?" she asks. "I don't know how to interpret the reason behind this cannibalism. It can be purely food, but it can also be symbolic ... The reason remains open," she says.

Explore further: Researchers discover the first evidence of Neanderthal cannibalism in northern Europe

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lincruste
Dec 30, 2016
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someone11235813
Dec 30, 2016
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Benni
1.6 / 5 (7) Dec 30, 2016
Good thing smarter people dubbed paleo-Europeans came along & decimated the Neanderthal culture, who wants to live alongside a next door neighbor as you wonder if he's planning to make you his next meal.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.3 / 5 (3) Dec 30, 2016
Perhaps the cromags were getting all the regular food.

"... our ancestors' far more recent arrival in Europe - about 45,000 years ago"

-The cromags were eating them and they were forced to eat each other. Their reproduction had most likely become seasonal and they were simply overwhelmed by the tropical invaders who had finally learned how to live in the cold.
brentemory
Dec 30, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (10) Dec 30, 2016
Interesting. It is not clear whether Neanderthals ate their dead to retain their spirits within the tribe, as some modern human cultures do, or cannabalized enemies, as other modern human cultures do. I find it equally interesting that the article implies that Neanderthals were a monoculture since this is almost certainly incorrect.
OdinsAcolyte
not rated yet Dec 30, 2016
This is nothing new. Every species of human has done this.
The first books I ever studied as a child assumed Neanderthal cannibals.
No doubt. There have been plenty more Cro cannibals and into recent times.
Meat is meat!
raburket
4.2 / 5 (5) Dec 30, 2016
How does it prove it was not Homosapiens who ate the marrow from the bones of Neanderthals? What theory from these "esteemed" anthropologists proves this?
richdiggins
3.7 / 5 (3) Dec 30, 2016
How does it prove it was not Homosapiens who ate the marrow from the bones of Neanderthals? What theory from these "esteemed" anthropologists proves this?


As you suspected, it was both groups...
http://phys.org/n...ors.html

There was another article that I remember reading on this site, could not find in search, that stated human tooth marks were found on neanderthal bones.
gkam
Dec 30, 2016
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tekram
4.3 / 5 (6) Dec 30, 2016
How does it prove it was not Homosapiens who ate the marrow from the bones of Neanderthals? What theory from these "esteemed" anthropologists proves this?

Up to 37,500 YBP (Year before present), there were minimal modern humans in Northern Europe. The analysis in this paper was on 40,000 year old Neanderthal bones from Goyet in Belgium (ca. 44–45.5 ky calBP).
https://www.ncbi....4933918/

Ancient Europeans had 3 to 6% Neanderthal DNA. Most descendants of Europeans and Asians have between 1 to 2 percent Neanderthal DNA. Indigenous sub-Saharan Africans have none, or very little Neanderthal DNA because their ancestors did not migrate through Eurasia.
944scjms507
4.5 / 5 (8) Dec 30, 2016
Perhaps Neanderthals only ate other Neanderthals that were outside their group. Chimpanzees will eat outsider chimps, and even some modern humans do so too (New Guinea).

Also, I have long wondered if the legends of trolls in northern Europe refer to Neanderthals. The trolls were said to be ugly, and to grind human bones to make their bread. Trolls were also said to have the occasional pretty daughter that a human man would marry.
cigarskunk
4.3 / 5 (6) Dec 30, 2016
Without knowing the context of the cannibalism it's really hard to say, especially considering the fact that we only found a few incidents of it versus numerous examples of the dead being treated with respect.

Since the bones of children were found to be cannibalized, we can eliminate war based cannibalism as that would have resulted in more bones being found and them all being those of adult males.

Considering how things were back then, the most likely explanation is desperation - food ran out for whatever reason and it came down to cannibalism or starvation.
irrefutable
3.7 / 5 (3) Dec 30, 2016
I like it when scientist use words like irrefutable to describe something that could have other explanations.
moranity
4 / 5 (4) Dec 30, 2016
blood transfusions and organ transplants?
didnt Montezuma offer Cortez a cup of blood from the hearts of his enemies?
anyhows, all that could be funerary preparations. Some people clean all the flesh from relatives bones before certain funerary practices.
also its strange that Cromagnon (biggest brains) appeared during a time of interbreeding between Neanderthals (middle brains) and Homo sapiens sapiens (smaller brains)
antigoracle
1 / 5 (3) Dec 30, 2016
Mmmm.... those hairy buggers must have made for some good eatin /sarc.
sgtwal
1 / 5 (1) Dec 30, 2016
Ever heard of the Boogyman? How about Trolls?
Human like beasts that lurk in the dark and take unattended children, sometimes from their own beds if they make noise and attract attention to themselves. creatures that live in grottos and caves and prey on unwitting travelers.
Ever wonder where the stories started?
timparker999
5 / 5 (1) Dec 30, 2016
Big deal. . . approximately 200 years ago Hawaiians, Maori, Fijians Tongans, etc. were practicing cannibalism.
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (2) Dec 30, 2016
Nothing like a little blood libel to spice up your anthropology.

Yay. NOT
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (3) Dec 30, 2016
also its strange that Cromagnon (biggest brains) appeared during a time of interbreeding between Neanderthals (middle brains) and Homo sapiens sapiens (smaller brains)
Be careful; brain mass is not a good proxy for intelligence. Einstein didn't have a particularly large brain.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.7 / 5 (3) Dec 30, 2016
Up to 37,500 YBP (Year before present), there were minimal modern humans in Northern Europe
You would need to provide a source stating that there were no cromags in northern europe before that date in order to make this statement. I doubt you can.

There were cromags in southern italy

"the oldest anatomically modern remains ever discovered in Europe, dating from between 43,000 and 45,000 years ago"

-and the assumption would be they entered the peninsula from the north.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.7 / 5 (3) Dec 30, 2016
also its strange that Cromagnon (biggest brains) appeared during a time of interbreeding between Neanderthals (middle brains)
-Neanderthal brains were bigger than ours.

"... neanderthal skulls were significantly larger than our modern human skulls, and that meant they had the capacity for brains just as big or bigger than our own."
HeidiHoNeighbor
Dec 30, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
katesisco
not rated yet Dec 31, 2016
Reading about the Black Death in Europe, I discovered that families would trade children as to not to be forced to eat their own child. Desperation beyond desperation.
I wonder if the Med area experienced a catastrophe that led to such during the collapse of the Early Copper Age. The Phoenicians --from the Caucasus as the later Pelagi and Etruscans were and perhaps others---seemed not to want to expand. Each city in the area now Lebanon had their own king. The Minoans also were reluctant to expand. One suspects the Myceneans began with an elite dissatisfied with his lot and migrated to the mainland and set about breaking the rules. The later Celti also had a king and city base and their defeat by Ceasar was due to their reluctance to unify and delayed sending support to Vercingutorix until it was too late.
I even attribute the refusal to unify to the endless European wars and subsequent global colonialization.
humy
not rated yet Dec 31, 2016
from personal experience, I recommend plenty of seasoning with rosemary and three cloves of garlic and wrap them up with several layers of foil to keep in the juices and thoroughly heat through to the core for at least two hours at gas mark 3 to make sure you kill any bugs. Makes sure you have a very big oven with room to stuff the whole lot in.
HeloMenelo
5 / 5 (4) Dec 31, 2016
Mmmm.... those hairy buggers must have made for some good eatin /sarc.

Never seen you eat any of your socks here though, but don't worry, we know you like the hairy kind ;)
Osiris1
not rated yet Dec 31, 2016
Archaeologists say that Neanderthalers were headed around the Levant going south about 30,000 years ago with the retreat of the glaciers in the European mountains that had trapped them for many eons. Some caves show skeletal remains with evidence of hybridization. With time this happened less often, showing perhaps neanderthalers were 'less preferred' as mates to moderns. Most significant advances seem to have been made by moderns. Do not know about Denisovians. We know that many Canaanites practiced human sacrifice, but such appears a constant among primitives of a certain level of societal development. We do have reversions in our modern society, just look at the Muslim extremists of ISIS. We really will need to check for evidence of these practices when we finally gain control of Mosul and Raqqqa, and prosecute those responsible, just like we did with the adherents of Pol Pot and Saloth Sar of the Khmer Rouge torturers.
rrrander
3 / 5 (4) Jan 01, 2017
I love the P.C. cretins who take this history as an affront to a non-human and feel compelled to "defend it." Think of it this way; they didn't (probably) shoot each other for sport like thugs in ghettos do now. So they had that going for them.
HocusLocus
3.7 / 5 (3) Jan 01, 2017
NEwS FLASH site in Andes mountains uncovered containing incontrovertible proof that homo sapiens engaged in cannibalistic practices among the snow covered peaks at an altar comprised of a grounded flying machine. It could not possibly have been a desperate ploy by intelligent mammals to stay alive during a harsh Winter, it had to be part of the culture.
Osiris1
2 / 5 (2) Jan 01, 2017
What I really wonder about is how the Neanderthalers got to Europe in the first place. They were there, according to some scholars, for over 250,000 years but basically invented ...not much except maybe some stone tipped spears. Not even the throwing stick. Cro-Magnon invented that, and maybe fire too...comments anyone cuz' not sure about the fire...can anyone be really sure. You would have thought that of all people, a species of poor devils wintering on glaciers getting eaten by polar bears and lions would have at least noticed in the summer when lightning caused fire, or seen sparks from the flint they may have worked....like the neanderthalers. Neanderthaler features can be seen to this day on heavy jawed contact sport athletes. Throwbacks like the departed wrestler 'Andre the Giant', God rest his soul, had not only the jaw but the eyebrow ridge as well. Some also say that they are still among us when negotiating New York City or Los Angeles traffic.
TheGhostofOtto1923
4.2 / 5 (5) Jan 01, 2017
Archaeologists say that Neanderthalers were headed around the Levant going south about 30,000 years ago
There are 2 posts above with refs stating that they were in europe 15k years earlier.
Not even the throwing stick. Cro-Magnon invented that, and maybe fire too...comments anyone cuz' not sure about the fire...
Yeah I'll comment... this is all on the internet. Why don't you look it up for yourself?

And Andre the giant was not a 'throwback'. He had "gigantism caused by excess growth hormone, which later resulted in acromegaly".

Making stuff up is especially annoying on a science site.
Osiris1
not rated yet Jan 02, 2017
Hoping some would add to my question about a possible African genesis of the Neanderthalers from an earlier interglacial migration over 250,000 years ago. A probably suitable candidate would have been one of the known precursors or at least hominin coinhabitants of Africa over time of the conjectured earlier emigration of what became known as the Neanderthalers, perhaps also the Denisovians. Not much known about the Denisovians, a still earlier hominin who was discovered in a Siberian cave...not to mention a part Denisovian/Neanderthal cross found in the Sima Cave in Spain. We may find our genealogy very confused and convoluted indeed, as now scientists are looking for a still... older ... hominin that was found crossed with certain peoples. This older line is thought to be almost 760,000 years old, or more?! BTW, acromegaly is a genetic/sometimes environmental defect in our lines, but such would likely have a root in ancient times as an archaic gene among our unexpressed DNA
TheGhostofOtto1923
4 / 5 (4) Jan 02, 2017
such would likely have a root in ancient times as an archaic gene among our unexpressed DNA
WTF???

"In adults, a tumor is the most common cause of too much GH production: Pituitary tumors. Most cases of acromegaly are caused by a noncancerous (benign) tumor (adenoma) of the pituitary gland. The tumor secretes excessive amounts of growth hormone, causing many of the signs and symptoms of acromegaly."

-Another freaking cliff clavin.

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