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Hard, brutal lives for Neanderthals

Dec. 4, 2006
Courtesy PNAS
and World Science staff

A­nal­y­sis of 43,000-year-old Ne­an­der­thal re­mains from north­west Spain sug­gest that these hu­mans led mea­ger, pos­si­bly can­ni­bal­is­tic lives, re­search­ers re­port.

An­to­nio Rosas of the Na­tion­al Mu­se­um of Nat­u­ral Sci­ences in Ma­drid and col­leagues dug up and stud­ied a large sam­ple of re­mains from an un­der­ground cave sys­tem where eight Ne­an­der­thal skele­tons have turned up since 2000.

Ne­an­der­thals are an ex­tinct sub­spe­cies of hu­man who lived in Eu­rope and the ar­ea around the Med­i­ter­ra­nean sea from about 100,000 to 30,000 years ago.

Ex­am­i­na­tion of teeth sug­gested sev­er­al episodes of star­va­tion or min­i­mal nu­tri­tion oc­curred dur­ing the de­vel­op­men­tal years, Ro­sas’ team wrote in find­ings pub­lished in the Nov. 4 is­sue of the re­search jour­nal Pro­ceed­ings of the Na­tio­n­al Aca­de­my of Sci­en­ces.

The bones also showed cut marks and signs of be­ing torn apart, pos­si­bly by dis­mem­ber­ment, they added. The bones shared fea­tures with oth­er Eu­ropean Ne­an­der­thals of that pe­ri­od, they al­so ob­served. More­o­ver, the jaw bones showed a north-south var­i­a­tion in shape, with the south­ern Ne­an­der­tals prob­a­bly hav­ing wid­er, flat­ter faces, they wrote. 

The re­sults shed light on the lifestyle of Ne­an­der­thals be­fore the ar­ri­val of an­a­tom­i­cally mod­ern Ho­mo sapi­ens, and on how Ne­an­der­thals were dis­trib­ut­ed ge­o­graph­i­cally, the re­search­ers ar­gued.


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Analysis of 43,000-year-old Neanderthal remains from northwest Spain suggest that these humans led meager, possibly cannibalistic lives, researchers report. Antonio Rosas of the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid and colleagues dug up and studied a large sample of remains from an underground cave system where eight ancient Neandertal skeletons have been found since 2000. Neanderthals are an extinct subspecies of Homo sapiens who lived in Europe and the area around the Mediterranean from about 100,000 to 30,000 years ago. Examination of teeth suggested several episodes of starvation or minimal nutrition occurred during the developmental years, Rosas’ team wrote in findings published in the Nov. 4 issue of pnas. Evidence of cut marks on the skeletal bones and signs the bones had been torn apart, possibly by dismemberment, they added. The bones shared features with other European Neandertals of that period, they also observed. Moreover, the jaw bones showed a north-south variation in shape, with the southern Neandertals probably having wider, flatter faces, they wrote. The results shed light on the lifestyle of Neandertals before the arrival of anatomically modern Homo sapiens and how Neandertals were distributed geographically, the researchers argued.