Scientists have discovered what appears to be the first evidence of cannibal behaviour of Neanderthals in northern Europe.
Evidence of this cannibal behaviour has been discovered at various sites in France and on the Iberian Peninsula. However, there are very few sites with Neanderthal remains north of latitude 50 degrees.
The researchers, led by Helene Rougier from the California State University, found 99 skeletal remains belonging to at least five individuals from a site in Goyet, Belgium -- making the discovery the largest number of Neanderthal human remains ever found in northern Europe.
A third of the Neanderthal remains on this site display cut marks, and many remains bear percussion marks caused when the bones were crushed to extract the marrow.
The comparison of the Neanderthal remains with other remains of fauna recovered on the site (horses and reindeer) suggests that the three species were consumed in a similar way. This discovery enables the range of known Neanderthal behaviour in northern Europe with respect to the dead to the expanded.
Moreover, the five human Neanderthal remains displayed signs of having been used as soft percussors to shape stone. The Neanderthals used boulders to shape stone tools and also used bone in some cases to sharpen the cutting edges.
The age of the Neanderthal remains was analysed and the researchers found that these Neanderthals lived between 40,500 and 45,500 years ago.
The study was published recently in the prestigious journal Scientific Reports.