Remains found in Belgium cave are clear-cut evidence of Neanderthal cannibalism

Remains found in Belgium cave are clear-cut evidence of Neanderthal cannibalism

First evidence of Neanderthal cannibalism in northern Europe has been found by archaeologist while they were excavating the Goyet caves in Belgium. The remains found from the caves have unveiled that the Neanderthals were involved into butchering and used the bones of their peers as tools.

Through radiocarbon dating it has been found that the remains date around 40,500 to 45,500 years old. Along with radiocarbon dating, mitochondrial DNA analysis was also carried out that suggested that Neanderthals were similar to the Neanderthal communities living in Germany, Spain and Croatia. It suggests that the Neanderthal population was small at that time.

The remains have been found in what is now Belgium. The research paper published in the journal Scientific Reports has unveiled that the team has identified 99 bone fragments and three teeth belonging to five Neanderthals.

The fragments were found along animal remains in the two of Goyet. When assembled, the remains were of five human bodies- four were teenagers or adults and the last was a child. Almost a third of the bones were having cut marks. In fact, their rib cages were being found open.

The larger bones, femurs and tibias were cut and pitted, which suggests that they have been broken apart so as to take out the marrow. The researchers have also found other animal bones, including of reindeer and wild horses that showed similar treatment.

Markings like cuts and notches were found on the bone fragments which indicate that the bodies were butchered by humans’ hands. The researchers said that the bodies were cut up and bone marrows were removed.

One of the study researchers, Hervé Bocherens from Tübingen's Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment said that the finds have helped them assume that Neanderthals used to practice cannibalism. For now, the researchers could not be aware of the fact that whether this behavior was carried out owing to any ceremony or it was regular for them.

The researchers said that it was the first evidence of cannibalistic behavior being shown by Neanderthals to be found in northern Europe. Earlier, the researchers have found the evidence of cannibalism by Neanderthals at El Sidrón and Zafarraya in Spain and at French sites Moula-Guercy and Les Pradelles. The findings are all the more important as the Belgian site is farther north than anything else discovered

It is suspected that the human remains were used in the same way as other animals. Thigh bone and shinbones were used to shape tools used by the Neanderthal community.

The researchers said, “The big differences in the behavior of these people on the one hand, and the close genetic relationship between late European Neanderthals on the other, raise many questions about the social lives and exchange between various groups”.

The findings would help open new windows of understanding as to how this ancient species used to live and interact. For past so many years, it was considered by paleoanthropologists that Neanderthals used to have funeral ceremony. But the remains buried for tens of thousands of years have shown a complete new side of Neanderthals.

The researchers said that Neanderthals mortuary practices could shed light on the social systems of the fossil human group.