Belgian Neanderthals were cannibals

An international group of researchers, including two experts from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, have come to the conclusion that Neanderthal people living in what is now Belgium, were cannibals. Researchers found evidence of "butchery activities" in what is a first for Northern Europe.

The research included human bones found in old caves in Goyet (near the present city of Namur). In their scientific report in Nature, the scientists write that the Goyet Neanderthal bones "show distinctive anthropogenic modifications, which provides clear evidence for butchery activities as well as for bones having been used for retouching stone tools".

In other words, the bones show cuts which prove the flesh was stripped off the bones by human interference. The victims were skinned and the body was carefully filleted. Bones were broken to suck the marrow out.

Hans Van Lierde of the Royal Museum of Natural Sciences told the commercial TV station VTM that "scientists found traces on the bones that show the flesh was stripped off and the marrow was taken from the bones, just as they did with animals. But they also did it with other humans, which is in fact cannibalism."


A first for Northern Europe

The scientists add that "Goyet not only provides the first unambiguous evidence of Neandertal cannibalism in Northern Europe, but also highlights considerable diversity in mortuary behaviour among the region’s late Neandertal population in the period immediately preceding their disappearance."

The Neanderthal (also spelled Neandertal, without the 'h') people in Goyet lived 40,000 to 45,000 years ago. Traces of cannibalism were also found in Spain and France, but this is the first discovery of its kind in Northern Europe.

Hundreds of bones were recovered from the caves of Spy and Goyet. They had been studied before, but that work has been redone using the latest modern techniques. Cooperating for the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences were Mietje Germonpré and Patrick Semal.


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