Neanderthal bones show signs of cannibalism

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Scientists have long known that our Neanderthal ancestors buried their dead. But new research shows that, in some places, they may have butchered the bodies for food instead.

Archaeologists have found the first evidence of Neanderthal cannibalism in northern Europe, according to a press release.

Researchers estimate the remains to be between 40,500 and 45,500 years old. Before this discovery, there was evidence of ancient cannibalism at El Sidrón and Zafarraya in Spain, and at the French sites Moula-Guercy and Les Pradelles. These remains were found in the Goyet caves in Belgium.

Scientists believe the remains show signs of cannibalism because of cuts and notches on the bone. These markings point to butchering by human hands.

Additionally, nearby remains of horses and reindeer were marked up in a similar way. Researchers say the bodies of all three species were skinned and cut up, and their bone marrow was removed. The Neanderthals also used one human thigh bone and three shin bones to shape stone tools.

"The big differences in the behavior of these people on the one hand, and the close genetic relationship between late European Neanderthals on the other, raise many questions about the social lives and exchange between various groups," Hervé Bocherens, one of the lead researchers on the study, told CBS News.

RELATED: Learn more about modern cannibal tribes

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Modern Cannibal tribes
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Modern Cannibal tribes
384787 07: An Aghori Sadhu attends the Kumbh Mela Festival January 14, 2001 in Allahabad, India. Aghoris are a venerated but fear-inspiring Hindu sect of ascetics who defy norms of civilized life, living only on cremated remains of others and cooking over funeral pyres. They use human skulls as vessels for eating and drinking. (Photo by Mario Magnani/ Liaison)
Aghori with skull and bone
India, Uttar Pradesh, Allahabad. A sadhu (or Hindu ascetic) from the extreme Aghori sect with a skull begging bowl around his neck at the Kumbh Mela festival which is held here every twelve years
India, Uttar Pradesh, Allahabad. A sadhu, or Hindu ascetic, from the extreme Aghori sect at the Kumbh Mela festival which is held every twelve years in Allahabad.
Cannibal oven in Naihehe Cave used by Fiji's last cannibal tribe in Sigatoka Valley, Viti Levu island. Fiji.
Traditional Koroway house perched on a tree above the ground, Western Papua, former Irian-jaya, Indonesia
Sendek, West Papua, Indonesia, South-East Asia, Asia
Dawhuin, West Papua, Indonesia, South-East Asia, Asia
Dawhuin, West Papua, Indonesia, South-East Asia, Asia
A member of the Koroway tribe stands on a ladder leading to his house at a forest near Merauke city in Indonesia's Papua province in this May 18, 2010 handout. A tribe of hunter gatherers living in trees in the remote forests of Indonesia's easternmost region of Papua has been discovered officially for the first time by the country's census, an official said in June. The nomadic tribe, called Koroway, numbers about 3,000 people speaking their own language and living off forest animals and plants, census officials found during the country's 2010 census survey. Picture taken on May 18, 2010. REUTERS/Suntono-Indonesia statistic agency/Handout (INDONESIA - Tags: SOCIETY IMAGES OF THE DAY ENVIRONMENT) QUALITY FROM SOURCE
** FILE ** Joshua Milton Blahyi, a former Liberian factional fighter known as "General Butt Naked", threatens a fellow combatant with a knife during an arguement outside the Barclay Training Center army barracks in Monrovia, Liberia during fighting in the city in this May 15, 1996 file photo. Blahyi, who now lives in Ghana, returned this week to acknowledge before the country's truth and reconciliation commission that his men killed 20,000 Liberians. An estimated 250,000 people were killed in Liberia's on-and-off 14-year civil war, which ended in 2003. Its truth and reconciliation commission, modeled after the one in post-apartheid South Africa, has been airing the worst of the abuses in a war characterized by the eating of human hearts, the use of child soldiers and the colored wigs and costumes worn by intoxicated rebels. Blahyi, who is now an evangelist and a church pastor, earned his nom de guerre from his practice of storming into battle without a stitch of clothing, a move intended to terrify the enemy. He appeared before the truth commission this week and confessed to the killings because he felt that asking for forgiveness could help heal the wounds of the past, he told The Associated Press in an interview on Saturday. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder/file)
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