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Humans Ate Neanderthals Into Extinction, Scientist Claims

May 21, 2009

Did cannibalism cause Neanderthals to become extinct? A scientist at France’s National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) seems to believe so.

Fernando Rozzi reported in the Journal of Anthropological Sciences that humans devoured Neanderthals into extinction during the Stone Age some 30,000 years ago.

Rozzi’s claim is based on analysis of a Neanderthal jawbone that had apparently been butchered by modern humans.

The jawbone, which could be the first evidence of contact between the two human groups, was recovered from a site known as Les Rois in southwestern France.

“Neanderthals met a violent end at our hands and in some cases we ate them,” Rozzi said.

Rozzi and colleagues say the first modern humans in Europe, known as the Aurignacian culture, also apparently used the remains of Neanderthals as jewelry.

“Four Aurignacian sites, including Les Rois, have yielded perforated human teeth, which confirms the interest in using human bone, and teeth in particular, by Aurignacians, for symbolic purposes,” said Rozzi.

Researchers compared slices on reindeer bones to those found on the jawbone. They also mimicked ancient techniques to suggest that the marks “may have resulted from slicing through the geniohyoid muscle to remove the tongue,” scientists said.

“For years, people have tried to hide away from the evidence of cannibalism, but I think we have to accept it took place,” Rozzi told London’s Guardian newspaper.

However, researchers are still unable to tell if humans with the intent of consumption killed the Neanderthal or if it was already dead when discovered.

Some scientists have previously suggested that Neanderthals weren’t equipped to deal with a changing climate, which lead to their demise.

Chris Stringer, anthropologist of the Natural History Museum, London said the study doesn’t necessarily prove that humans ate Neanderthals to extinction.

“But it does add to the evidence that competition from modern humans probably contributed to Neanderthal extinction,” said Stringer.

“We do need more evidence, but this could indicate modern humans and Neanderthals were living in the same area of Europe at the same time, that they were interacting, and that some of these interactions may have been hostile.”

Francesco d’Errico, of the Institute of Prehistory in Bordeaux, agrees with Stringer’s notion.

“One set of cut marks does not make a complete case for cannibalism.”

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