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Climate change may have forced Neanderthals to resort to cannibalism

The remains of six humans recovered from a cave in France are providing new clues into the lives of Neanderthals who lived in the region 120,000 years ago. Human teeth marks found on the bones indicate that climate change forced the Neanderthals to resort to cannibalism.

According to researchers at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), global warming would have made the large animals hunted by Neanderthals scarce. The planet was in the midst of a major transition from an ice age to a much warmer climate.

The remains, which were initially found 20 years ago in the Moula-Guercy cave in France, showed signs that instruments were used to break open the bones to expose marrow. The skulls had also been smashed open, most likely for access to the brains.

The analysis of the teeth collected for the study revealed that the hominids were suffering from prolonged periods of malnutrition. The study authors said their findings provide the “best evidence” of cannibalism at this time.

Recovered bones reveal signs of cannibalism, Image Credit: Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences

“The work at the Moula-Guercy cave allows us for the first time to demonstrate the existence of the practice of cannibalism by European Neanderthals,” said Dr. Alban Defleur.

The researchers believe that the six humans, including two adults, two teenagers, and two children, were killed out of necessity to feed the starving population.

“Cut marks are spread over 50 percent of the human remains and distributed over the entire skeleton from the cranium, jaws, and bones in the hand,” wrote the researchers. “Percussion marks are visible on all the skulls, all the long bones and other bones of adults and children.”

The experts theorize that the bodies were first dismembered and then stripped of their meat. There is also evidence on four of the bones that they had been used by the Neanderthals as tools.

The study is published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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