A team of archaeologists found evidence that the Neanderthals practiced cannibalism. They found Neanderthal cannibalism indications such as cut marks, notches and pits on Neanderthal remains excavated in the  Troisième caverne  of Goyet near Namur, Belgium.

Using radiocarbon dating, the research team determined that the skeletal remains date back around 40,500 to 45,500 years ago. The marks they found were indications that Neanderthals butchered their own kind through skinning,  cutting up body parts and even extracting bone marrow.

However, researcher Hervé Bocherens from Tübingen’s Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment says that they do not know whether Neanderthals butchered their kind as part of some symbolic act or as food. Still, the remains of reindeer and horses, which Neanderthals ate, found at the same site have the same markings and were processed in the same way.

Neanderthal Cannibalsim

The different categories of anthropogenic modifications found on Neanderthal bones at Goyet. Femur I (left) displays signs of having been used as a percussor for shaping stone, and femur III (right) bears cut marks indicating the processing of remains during butchery activities. Femur III also bears signs of retouching left behind after being used to retouch the edges of stone tools. Scale = 1 cm. Credit: Asier Gómez-Olivencia et al.

The skeletal remains, particularly one thigh bone and three shinbones,  also reveal that Neanderthals used a dead person’s bones as tools to shape their other tools made of stone. The researchers add that they also used animal bones as knapping tools.

Apparently, other researchers have previously raised the idea that Neanderthals did practice cannibalism. However, there were limited evidence found, until now. Several remains proving Neanderthal cannibalism were also found in El Sidrón and Zafarraya in the Iberian Peninsula and Moula-Guercy and Les Pradelles in France but the Troisième cavern is the first one to show a clear evidence of this gruesome practice in northern parts of Europe.

These findings add more data about what Neanderthals did to their dead. Moreover, Bocherens points out that the discovery can also pave the way into further investigations that seek to reveal how Neanderthals from Europe interacted with Neanderthals from other places.

The Goyet site was first studied and excavated 150 years ago. Since then, scientists have gathered many details about how hominins lived.