Cannibalized Neanderthals found in Spain

In 1994, deep in the El Sidron cave system in northern Spain, the bodies of 13 cannibalized Neanderthals were found. They lived around 50,000 years ago. Modern forensic techniques determined that they had been cannibalized, because the skulls were cracked open to extract the bone marrow. Their tongues and brains had been eaten. The group was a family of 7 adults, 3 teenagers, & 3 children.

The El Sidron cave system is approximately 12,000 feet long, featuring a central gallery of about 600 feet long. In prehistoric times, it would have been a great place to shelter. When the bones were originally discovered in 1994 it was thought that they were of Spanish civil war soldiers. During the war, republican soldiers used the cave to hide in.

Neanderthal cannibalism
Neanderthal cannibalism

Later analysis revealed they were much older.

When it was discovered that the bones were actually more than 50,000 years old, a more thorough investigation commenced. The cave was then thoroughly excavated from 2000 to 2013. The bones were all discovered in the same part of the cave called Ossuary Gallery or Tunnel of Bones.

Anomalies found in the bones strongly suggested inbreeding was common place. Suggesting the local Neanderthal population to be fairly low. Neanderthals fell off the fossil record about 40,000 years ago, so this group could be a strong indicator of why they eventually went extinct. They slowly broke into smaller and smaller groups and were not able to interbreed properly. This would cause significate inbreeding which leads to a host of disorders that weakens the species. Ultimately leading to their demise.

The men of this group were all related but the women appeared to be from outside the group. Signifying that they weren’t completely isolated from other groups in the area. But the evidence of inbreeding within all of the individuals DNA suggest it was common place at this point.

Evidence of cannibalism

The types of pitting, cut marks, and bones cracked open suggest they were inflicted by other Neanderthals. There weren’t any scratch or claw marks that a predator would inflict. The bones were cracked open in such a way that the marrow could be extracted. The bones also suggest that the individuals suffered from malnutrition on a diet of mostly plants, nuts and some meat. Indicating they may have been cannibalized for survival.

Over 2500 bones have been discovered at El Sidron making it the largest collection of Neanderthal fossils in Europe. While excavation has ended, studies continue on the bones and artifacts found in the cave. Why aren’t I using metric?

View more odd history facts.

Bones from El Sidron Neanderthal family
Bones with congenital anomalies within the El Sidrón family group. Maxilla (A), first cervical vertebrae (B,C), second cervical vertebra (D), twelfth thoracic vertebra (E), twelfth hypoplastic rib or lumbar rib (F), os Centrale and bipartite scaphoid (G), tripartite patella (H), navicular-cuboid non-osseous coalition (I), left foot anomaly (J). Courtesy: Nature.com

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