A team of archaeologists announces that they have isolated the fossilized remains of nine Neanderthals and more in a cave near Rome. This exceptional discovery sheds new light on how the Italian peninsula was populated by our former cousins, who also obviously had to deal with hyenas.
In 1939, a Neanderthal skull was discovered south of Rome, in a small cave on the property of a seaside hotel. The site was particularly well preserved, as a landslide some 50,000 years ago had closed the entrance to the cave. At the time, the affair was buzzing. On the one hand, because it was one of the best-preserved skulls ever found, but also because, above this skull, there was a large hole.
Alberto Carlo Blanc, the paleontologist who had studied him first, then put forward the idea, since debunked, that Neanderthals engaged in ritual cannibalism, extracting the brains of their victims to eat them. In fact, this hole could be the work of … a cave hyena.
An exceptional discovery
The Italian Ministry of Culture has just announced the discovery of the remains of nine other Neanderthals of different sexes and ages inside the same cave in a still unexplored area. One of the Neanderthals found in the cave lived about 100,000 to 90,000 years, while the other eight evolved about 65,000 to 50,000 years.
Our Neanderthal cousins ruled Eurasia for around 260,000 years, and their bones have been found in many places, from Spain to Siberia. Despite everything, it remains very rare to find so many remains in the same cache. For Francesco Di Mario, archaeologist from the Ministry of Culture in charge of the excavations, this means that the Neanderthals were very numerous in the region.
Neanderthals: a pantry for hyenas?
However, this is not all. During these excavations, which began in October 2019, the researchers also isolated hundreds of elephant, rhino and aurochs bones. These new discoveries therefore give us a new insight into the culinary peculiarities of the Neanderthal diet.
According to the analyzes, many of these animal bones also presented marks suggesting that they were eaten by cave hyenas (the Stone Age ancestors of today’s carnivores). According to Mario Rolfo, who teaches prehistoric archeology at the University of Rome in Tor Vergata, they indeed used the cave as a kind of pantry.
Besides, it seems that Neanderthals were also on the menu. One of the new skulls found on the site indeed presented a hole similar to the one isolated in 1939. On the other hand, it is not known whether our cousins were killed by the predators or if the latter simply nibbled on their bones after finding them already dead.