Neanderthals may have been driven to cannibalism by rapid climate change

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Male and female Neanderthals in the Neanderthal Museum, Mettmann, Germany. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

New research published [April 2019] in the Journal of Archaeological Science suggests the crushing impact of the Last Interglacial Period, also known as the Eemian period, forced Neanderthals into cannibalism. This era of prehistory, between 128,000 to 114,000 years ago, saw global temperatures rise to about 2 degrees Celsius higher that the average global temperature in the 20th century.

Warmer conditions might sound like a welcome respite for the Neanderthals, but the change was likely very disruptive. Neanderthals had lived in Eurasia for hundreds of thousands of years prior to the Last Interglacial Period, and they were well adapted to the ice age conditions. The resulting changes to the plant and animal life were not necessarily for the better.

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At least six Neanderthal individuals found in the [Braume Moula-Guercy] cave—two adults, two teens, and two children—were cannibalized, as evidenced by cut marks made by stone tools, signs of complete bodily dismemberment.

Importantly, the “cannibalism highlighted at Baume Moula-Guercy is not a mark of bestiality or sub-humanity,” the authors wrote. Rather, the data points to a “short and single episode of survival [cannibalism] in response to nutritional stress induced by rapid and radical environmental changes.”

Read full, original post: Climate Change Drove Neanderthals to Cannibalism, New Research Suggests

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