Monday, May 18, 2009

To Serve Neandertals

The title is borrowed from a Twilight Zone episode called "To Serve Man," which is basically an extraterrestrial cook book on how to eat humans. The Guardian is reporting on a study out of France, in which it is argued that Neandertals did not come meet their fate by being out competed:
One of science's most puzzling mysteries - the disappearance of the Neanderthals - may have been solved. Modern humans ate them, says a leading fossil expert.

The controversial suggestion follows publication of a study in the Journal of Anthropological Sciences about a Neanderthal jawbone apparently butchered by modern humans. Now the leader of the research team says he believes the flesh had been eaten by humans, while its teeth may have been used to make a necklace.

Fernando Rozzi, of Paris's Centre National de la R├ęcherche Scientifique, said the jawbone had probably been cut into to remove flesh, including the tongue. Crucially, the butchery was similar to that used by humans to cut up deer carcass in the early Stone Age. "Neanderthals met a violent end at our hands and in some cases we ate them," Rozzi said.

Some are, obviously, skeptical of the claim:"
This is a very important investigation," said Professor Chris Stringer, of the Natural History Museum, London. "We do need more evidence, but this could indicate modern humans and Neanderthals were living in the same area of Europe at the same time, that they were interacting, and that some of these interactions may have been hostile.

"This does not prove we systematically eradicated the Neanderthals or that we regularly ate their flesh. But it does add to the evidence that competition from modern humans probably contributed to Neanderthal extinction."
There are a number of reasons why human flesh is removed postmortem. It could be for burial purposes. The child burial at Lagar Velho, for example, has bones that are heavily stained with red ochre. I agree with Chris Stringer that more information needs to come to light before this idea can be seriously entertained.


  1. I agree with Chris Stringer that more information needs to come to light before this idea can be seriously entertained.Agreed. Finding marks of butchering on, say, an extinct species of deer would not demonstrate that the species had been hunted into extinction, just that it had been preyed upon.

  2. Yeah, they seem to be reading way into this. Even if they could demonstrate that this Neanderthal was eaten by humans, which I'm suspicious could really be confirmed, that would only be a single case.

  3. I think that it is something that people want to believe because it further distances us from our European precursors. "Oh my gosh, the Neandertals did what????"