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14 August 2016
What drove northern European Neanderthals to cannibalism?

An intriguing puzzle is unravelling around the collection of bones which have accumulated over numerous digs over two centuries, from the Troisieme caverne de Goyet, in Belgium.
     State of the art techniques, including DNA and chemical analyses of the bones are yielding some interesting results. So far the remains of at least 5 individual Neanderthals have been identified, mixed in with the remains of other animals, including reindeer and horses.
     The study team from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural sciences and California State University (USA) have concluded that there is evidence of cannibalism from the Neanderthal bone fragments, identified by the smashing of bones to extract the marrow and the sharpening of some bone fragments to act as tools.
     But was this part of a ritual or a matter of survival? Some evidence of malnutrition (hinting at starvation levels) may point to the latter, but this cannot be totally conclusive as other discoveries on other sites prove, Neanderthal tribes led complex and widely differing practices, even within relatively short distances of each other.
     Anthropologist and study author, Helene Rougier, is quoted as saying "[Cannibalism] scares people, it doesn't mean that Neanderthals weren't a complex culture. We cannot treat them too simply"

Edited from NPR (14 July 2016)

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