Neanderthals Participated In Cannibalism Says New Research

Scott Falkner

Cannibalism. The word brings to mind the stuff of horror movies, of secretive jungle tribes or the Donner Party. However, a new discovery in Belgium has determined that our Neanderthal ancestors had an affinity for cannibalism that was heretofore unrealized.

The Neanderthal bones found in Belgium date between 40,500 and 45,500 years old, and they bear unmistakable signs of cannibalism. The Neanderthal bones exhibit "indentations" where scientists believe they were hammered open to harvest the bone marrow within. The rib cages of the skeletons have been pried open. The bones also exhibit marks that were created by primitive knives used to shear flesh away from the bone. The Neanderthal bones found in the Belgian cave were found amidst numerous bones of animals that all bore similar marks and indications of what we would refer in modern terms as field dressing. The scientists researching the Neanderthal discovery put the skeletons of the humans back together and found that they recreated one child and four adults -- all of whom were the victims of cannibalism.

Some scientists, however, argue the point that Neanderthals actually exhibited funeral - or mortuary - practices. Flowers found at the site of one Neanderthal "burial" site that were originally thought to have been left by fellow Neanderthals could have been merely left by an animal at the same site, claim critics.

For now, the researchers studying the Belgian Neanderthal site are sticking to the facts and not making any claims as of yet about a possible funeral site. The Neanderthals at the site existed just before the estimated time of when the Neanderthal species went extinct, about 40,000 years ago. Thus far, none of the other Neanderthal excavation sites that exist in the region bear any signs of cannibalism. In fact, there was another discovery less than 25 miles away in which two Neanderthals appeared to be buried together, side by side.

[Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images]

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