April 25, 2005

The rituals of the Krapina Neanderthals

Red Nova reports on rituals performed by Neanderthals from Krapina, Croatia. Ritual treatment of the dead is one of the differences which are believed to have differentiated Homo sapiens from Neanderthals, but these new findings indicate that Neanderthals performed elaborate, albeit gruesome, rituals for the dead.
After excavating a cache of Neandertal fossils about 100 years ago at Krapina Cave in what's now Croatia, researchers concluded that incisions on the ancient individuals' bones showed that they had been butchered and presumably eaten by their comrades. That claim has proved difficult to confirm. A new, high-tech analysis indicates that the Krapina Neandertals ritually dismembered corpses in ways that must have held symbolic meaning for the group-whether or not Neandertals ate those remains [...] Krapina 3 [DP: pictured below] and other skull remains exhibit marks made by slicing away the ears, removing the tongue, detaching the lower jaw, and skinning the head. Lower-body fossils contain incisions created by removing muscle from bones as well as abrasions caused by scrubbing fat and gristle off bones. Cuts on pelvic and leg bones indicate that bodies lay facedown during dismemberment.
The findings were announced in the 2005 meeting of the Palaeoanthropology Society. The program of the conference is available online as a pdf, and the presentation is titled "Cook, J. D. Frayer and J. Radovcic. New evidence for symbolic behavior by the Krapina Neandertals", although there is no abstract available on the site.

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