A shocking study reveals that Neanderthals had a gruesome penchant for eating one another.
The more we learn about our distant cousins the Neanderthals, the more bizarre things seem to get. According to a report from the Washington Post, a recent study suggests that Neanderthals engaged in cannibalism.
Based on evidence found in a cage in Belgium, scientists say that it was extremely likely that Neanderthals feasted upon one another. Researchers found bones with cracks and indentations where marrow was removed, as well as slashes left behind by knives used to tear flesh away. Similarly treated bones from horses and reindeer suggest that paleoanthropologists were looking at the remains of a massive caveman feast.
Scientists pieced the bones together to determine that five individuals had been butchered and eaten inside of the cave, including four adults and one child. Researchers believe the bones came from roughly 40,500 and 45,500 years ago. The discovery joins a growing list of “unambiguous evidence” suggesting that cannibalism has been around for quite some time.
The discovery in Belgium is the northernmost example of prehistoric cannibalism, following evidence uncovered in France, Portugal and Spain. It dates toward the very end of the period when Neanderthals lived on Earth, just a few thousand years before they completely vanished.
Scientists know little behind the motivation for the killings and presumed consumption of these individuals, but it could have very well been an act of hunger or some sort of ritualistic sacrifice. According to a statement, the discovery “highlights the considerable diversity in mortuary behavior among the region’s late Neanderthal population in the period immediately preceding their disappearance.
“Neanderthal mortuary practices,” the statement continues, “may provide insights concerning the social systems of this fossil human group.” While it may be hard to say exactly why these individuals were eaten in the context of an extinct species, researchers believe the discovery could lead to a greater understanding of Neanderthals’ role in our evolutionary history.
A press release describing the details of the study can be found here.