When climate change became too much to endure 120,000 years ago, a group of Neanderthals who were living in the south of France are believed to have become so desperate for food that they resorted to cannibalism, slaughtering and consuming six of their own, according to a new study conducted by Alban Defleur and Emmanuel Desclaux.
As Cosmos Magazine reports, scientists first discovered the remains of the six Neanderthal victims in the 1990s in a cave located near Baume Moula-Guercy in the Rhône valley. The victims were found to belong to different age groups, with two of the Neanderthals found to have been adults, and the remaining four adolescents and younger children.
The bones of these six Neanderthals all revealed very clear and obvious signs of cannibalism, including fingers which look as if they had been ravenously chewed upon, and bones which had numerous cut marks on them which scientists believe were made by stone tools. In some of these remains there was also evidence of dismemberment, which is nothing that would have occurred naturally.
The Neanderthals that were cannibalized in the south of France were far from alone in their plight, and scientists have also discovered the remains of other Neanderthal victims in different sites scattered throughout Croatia, Belgium, and Spain. However, up until now scientists were baffled as to why so many Neanderthals turned to cannibalism.
As archaeologist Michelle Langley noted, “Cannibalism is always a contentious thing, because we find it quite revolting.”
A rapid period of warming more than 120,000 years ago, during the last interglacial period, drove Neanderthals in the south of France to eat six of their own. https://t.co/SUifq46hEk
— Cosmos Magazine (@CosmosMagazine) March 29, 2019
After scientists dated the floor of the Baume Moula-Guercy cave where the six Neanderthal remains were discovered, they determined that the Neanderthals would have died between 128,000 to 114,000 years ago, which would have been during the most recent interglacial period.
With temperatures much warmer on average than they are today, the Rhône Valley would have changed so dramatically that Neanderthals wouldn’t have had any large mammals to have hunted and eaten, and instead were forced to search for rodents, snakes and tortoises. And while Neanderthals were once used to living in grasslands, their environment also abruptly changed to forested areas.
As Desclaux explained, this climate change occurred quite suddenly, and may have left Neanderthals with very little choice but to resort to cannibalism.
“The change of climate from the glacial period to the last interglacial was very abrupt. We’re not talking in terms of geological scale, but more a human scale. Maybe within a few generations, the landscape totally changed.”
As Langley stated, “For the first time, they have proper evidence that shows they were in desperate times, and they were doing what they need to do to survive. They weren’t doing anything different to what modern humans would do in the same situation.”
The new study suggesting that Neanderthals resorted to cannibalism as a result of climate change has been published in The Journal of Archaeological Science.