Archive for the ‘Neanderthals’ Category

Climate change may have driven a band of Neanderthals to cannibalism

March 31st, 2019
Climate change may have driven a band of Neanderthals to cannibalism

(credit: Photograph by ORNL)

A new study suggests that a group of Neanderthals in southeast France resorted to cannibalism to survive lean times. If that says anything about Neanderthals, it’s that they weren’t so different from us—for better and for worse.

The bones in the cave

Something awful happened in Moula-Guercy cave in southeastern France around 120,000 years ago. Archaeologists excavating the site in the early 1990s found the bones of six Neanderthals near the eastern wall of the cave, disarticulated and mingled with bones from deer and other wildlife. That mixing of bones, as though the dead Neanderthals had been discarded with the remains of their food, is strange enough; there’s plenty of evidence that Neanderthals typically buried their dead. But at Moula-Guercy, at least six Neanderthals—two adults, two teenagers, and two children—received very different treatment. Their bones and those of the deer show nearly-identical marks of cutting, scraping, and cracking, the kind of damage usually associated with butchering.

“When numerous human remains are discovered on an undisturbed living floor, with similar patterns of damage, mixed with animal remains, stone tools, and fireplaces, they can legitimately interpreted as evidence of cannibalism,” wrote Alban Defleur and Emmanuel Desclaux in a recent paper in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

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Posted in ancient people did stuff, Archaeology, biological archaeology, cannibalism, forensic archaeology, hominins, interglacial, Neanderthals, paleoanthropology, science | Comments (0)

Neanderthal teeth reveal lead exposure and difficult winters

October 31st, 2018
Neanderthal teeth reveal lead exposure and difficult winters

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A new study of oxygen isotope ratios and heavy metals in the tooth enamel of Neanderthals who lived and died 250,000 years ago in southeast France suggests that they endured colder winters and more pronounced differences between seasons than the region’s modern residents. The two Neanderthals in the study also experienced lead exposure during their early years, making them the earliest known instances of this exposure.

Enduring harsh winters

Tooth enamel forms in thin layers, and those layers record the chemical traces of a person’s early life—from climate to nutrition to chemical exposures—a little like tree rings on a much smaller scale. Archaeologist Tanya Smith of Griffith University and her colleagues examined microscopic samples of tooth enamel from two Neanderthal children from the Payre site in southeastern France. The teeth were radiocarbon dated to around 250,000 years ago, and the set of samples recorded about three years of life.

One important clue to past environments is oxygen, which comes from the water a person drank or the plants they ate. The ratio of the oxygen-18 isotope to oxygen-16 depends on temperature, precipitation, and evaporation. Generally, higher ratios of oxygen-18 indicate warmer, drier conditions with more evaporation.

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Posted in Archaeology, biological archaeology, isotope analysis, Neanderthals, paleoanthropology, paleoclimate, science, teeth | Comments (0)