Bones Give Peek Into the Lives of Neanderthals
REMAINS The bone fragments of the family were retrieved at El Cidrón.
By CARL ZIMMER, Published: December 20, 2010
Deep in a cave in the forests of northern Spain are the remains of a gruesome massacre. The first clues came to light in 1994, when explorers came across a pair of what they thought were human jawbones in the cave, called El Sidrón. At first, the bones were believed to date to the Spanish Civil War. Back then, Republican fighters used the cave as a hide-out. The police discovered more bone fragments in El Sidrón, which they sent to forensicscientists, who determined that the bones did not belong to soldiers, or even to modern humans. They were the remains of Neanderthals who died 50,000 years ago.
Today, El Sidrón is one of the most important sites on Earth for learning about Neanderthals, who thrived across Europe and Asia from about 240,000 to 30,000 years ago. Scientists have found 1,800 more Neanderthal bone fragments in the cave, some of which have yielded snippets of DNA.
But the mystery has lingered on for 16 years. What happened to the El Sidrón victims? In a paper this week in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Spanish scientists who analyzed the bones and DNA report the gruesome answer. The victims were a dozen members of an extended family, slaughtered by cannibals. See more in the NY Times…