Stone Age Cutups: Deathly Rituals Emerge at Neandertal Site

By Bower, B. | Science News, April 16, 2005 | Go to article overview

Stone Age Cutups: Deathly Rituals Emerge at Neandertal Site


Bower, B., Science News


After excavating a cache of Neandertal fossils about l00 years ago at Krapina Cave in what's now Croatia, researchers concluded that incisions on the ancient individuals' bones showed that they had been butchered and presumably eaten by their comrades. That claim has proved difficult to confirm. A new, high-tech analysis indicates that the Krapina Neandertals ritually dismembered corpses in ways that must have held symbolic meaning for the group--whether or not Neandertals ate those remains.

Neandertals apparently possessed a facility for abstract thought that has often been regarded as unique to modern Homo sapiens, says study director Jill Cook of the British Museum in London. The Krapina Neandertals lived around 130,000 years ago.

"Some kind of mortuary practice that had symbolic significance was going on at Krapina," Cook suggests. Although cannibalism might also have occurred, the bodies were systematically sliced up rather than quickly butchered, in her view. "Even eating people is a complex behavior" that likely would have included ritual of some kind, the British anthropologist notes.

Cook described the new investigation last week in Milwaukee at the annual meeting of the Paleoanthropology Society.

She and her colleagues used digital-imaging microscopy to generate high-resolution views of stone-tool incisions on Krapina remains. Many of the more than 800 fossils, which represent nearly 80 individuals, contain such markings. The researchers digitally lifted and separated images of incisions on individual bones for closer examination.

A partial skull known as Krapina 3 provided the biggest jolt. To the researchers' surprise, it contains a pattern of regularly spaced, parallel grooves across the top of the head. …

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Stone Age Cutups: Deathly Rituals Emerge at Neandertal Site
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