In Spanish Cave, Neanderthal Bones Tell of Cannibalism

Fragments come from group of 12, possibly related
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 21, 2010 8:42 AM CST
In Spanish Cave, Neanderthal Bones Tell of Cannibalism
This picture provided by the American Museum of Natural History shows a mural depicting Neanderthal life that hasn't been displayed in decades at the museum in New York.   (AP Photo/American Museum of Natural History)

In the forests of northern Spain is a cave named El Sidrón, and inside lies one of the richest troves of Neanderthal remains known to man. Since explorers first stumbled upon jawbones in 1994, 1,800 Neanderthal bone fragments have been discovered there, some of which contain accessible bits of DNA—and tell quite the story. In a paper published this week, the scientists who studied the bones reveal that they belonged to a large family of Neanderthals who were slaughtered by cannibals some 50,000 years ago, reports the New York Times.

Found in a room dubbed the "Tunnel of Bones," the bones bore cut marks, which scientist attribute to stone blades—found in the cave and made from rocks located just miles away—being used on them to remove muscle from bone. Long bones had been snapped open. Their conclusion? Cannibalism, after the victims potentially wandered into another group's territory. And after years of painstaking work and DNA study, the researchers identified 12 individuals, whom they say were closely related. All three men had the same mitochondrial DNA, and could therefore be brothers, cousins, or uncles.
(More Neanderthals stories.)

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