Magazine article Science News

Cave Finds Revive Neandertal Cannibalism

Magazine article Science News

Cave Finds Revive Neandertal Cannibalism

Article excerpt

The butchered skeletal remains of six individuals, unearthed at a 100,000-to-120,000-year-old cave site in southeastern France, offer compelling evidence of Neandertal cannibalism, according to a new report.

Neandertal and animal bones found in Moula-Guercy Cave, which overlooks the Rhone River, exhibit identical signs of meat and marrow removal, says a team headed by anthropologist Alban Defleur of the CNRS Anthropology Laboratory in Marseille, France.

Neandertals were the only members of the human evolutionary family known to have inhabited southwestern Europe at the time. Defleur and his coworkers thus propose that Neandertals killed and ate their own at Moula-Guercy--for as yet undetermined reasons.

"This is conclusive evidence that at least some Neandertals practiced cannibalism," holds anthropologist Tim White of the University of California, Berkeley, a member of Defleur's group. "Moula-Guercy was a temporary occupation, and we can't say what the reasons were for cannibalism occurring there."

Reports of prehistoric cannibalism go back more than a century. Researchers have identified butchery marks on human bones at a 6,000-year-old French cave and at U.S. Southwest Anasazi Indian sites that are 800 to 1,600 years old (SN: 1/2/93, p. 12).

Controversy still surrounds claims that ancient groups pursued anything other than starvation-induced cannibalism in emergencies.

Defleur began excavating Moula-Guercy in 1991. After finding Neandertal bones with stone-tool incisions suggestive of cannibalism, he invited White to help analyze the remains. …

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