Tue. Apr 23rd, 2019

The climate change that led a group of Neanderthals to cannibalism

El cambio climático que llevó a un grupo de neandertales al canibalismo


The global warming during the last interglacial period had a brutal impact, especially on hunters / gatherers neandertales who lived in Europe. It started around 130,000 years ago and the latest studies indicate that it was the hottest time of the last 400,000 years.

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The climate change was so exaggerated that it caused the drastic collapse of the European population and ended up encouraging the cannibalism between a community of Neanderthals that resided in a cave of Ardèche located on the river Rhone (France), as detailed in study published in the magazine Journal of Archaeological Science
.


The climate change it was so exaggerated that it caused the drastic collapse of the European population






Alban Defleur, from the Geology Laboratory of Lyon, and Emmanuel Desclaux, from the Laboratory of Prehistory of Lazarét, have analyzed an exceptional archaeological layer - "that has no comparison in the whole continent", they affirm - that it has been preserved undisturbed for more than 120,000 years at the site of Baume Moula-Guercy.

This site in southeastern France, which has been excavated since 1991, contained the very well preserved skeletons of six individuals of the species Homo neanderthalensis whose bones had cut marks. "The environmental upheaval, including the exhaustion of prey at the beginning of the Upper Pleistocene, contributed to the increase in cannibalistic behavior," they write.

Cut lines observed in the bones found in Baume Moula-Guercy

Cut lines observed in the bones found in Baume Moula-Guercy
(Observatoire de Lyon)

The study of polar ice and marine sediments has allowed us to identify that, in the last interglacial period (which lasted between 128,000 and 114,000 years ago), the temperatures were higher than the current ones and that the sea level was from 6 to 9 meters higher than today. "The human population collapsed, remaining only in a few regions," the researchers say.





The rapid global warming led to the reconfiguration of ecosystems and a redistribution of all living species of the European continent, from plants and trees to reptiles and large mammals, which had to adapt to the new dense and temperate forest that had replaced the previous steppe.


In the last interglacial period the temperatures were higher than the current ones and the sea level was 6 to 9 meters higher

The characteristic animals of cold zones were replaced by species from temperate areas that had taken refuge in the Mediterranean peninsulas during the Riss glaciation. "The reptiles of the Mediterranean, including the Hermann's turtle, absent from the Ardèche region at present, occupied the new spaces, which shows that the climate of this region was warmer and drier than today," they say.

The temperate forest, according to Defleur and Desclaux, is a hostile environment for hunter-gatherers, both now and in the past. The large mammals, which were the preferred prey of the Neanderthals, were much less present in these arid zones because they preferred the cold steppes.


The animals of cold zones were replaced by species of temperate areas that had taken refuge in the Mediterranean peninsulas during the glaciation






These changes ended up modifying the behavior of some Neanderthal communities. "Cannibalism is witnessed in only four sites during the last 100,000 years of its existence in the European continent, and two go back to the last interglacial period, despite its short duration," the researchers point out.

The best documented site, according to the two French experts, is the Baume Moula-Guercy. "The flint streaks seen in the bones and the points of impact to break the bones and skulls testify that the occupants of the cave consumed six of their congeners during an episode of survival endocannibalism," they conclude.


These changes ended up modifying the behavior of some Neanderthal communities








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