Italian archaeologists have unearthed the bones of nine Neanderthals believed to have been hunted and mutilated by hyenas in their lair about 100 km southeast of Rome.
Scientists from the Archaeological Superintendence of Latina and the University of Tor Vergata in Rome said the remains belonged to seven adult men and a woman, while another was that of a young boy.
Experts believe that people have lived at different times. Some bones could be between 50,000 and 68,000 years old, while the oldest remains are 100,000 years old.
Neanderthal remains, which include caps and broken jaws, were found in the cave of Guattari, which had already gained notoriety for the presence of fossils of these distant human cousins, which were found by chance in 1939. Since then, no other human remains had been found at Guattari.
“It’s a spectacular find,” said Mario Rolfo, professor of archeology at Tor Vergata University in Rome. “A collapse, possibly caused by an earthquake, sealed this cave for over 60,000 years, preserving the remains left inside for tens of thousands of years.
Researchers have found traces of vegetables alongside human and rhino remains, giant deer, wild horses and, of course, fierce hyenas.
According to the researchers, most of the Neanderthals had been killed by hyenas and then brought back to the cave they had turned into their den. Once inside, the animals consumed their prey.
“The Neanderthals were the prey of these animals,” said Rolfo. “Hyenas hunted them, especially the most vulnerable, such as the sick or the elderly.”
Even before these fierce predators take possession of the cave, experts do not rule out the possibility that the Neanderthals at some point made their home.
Rolfo announced that his team of researchers now intends to analyze the DNA of these individuals to understand their lifestyles and their history.
A preliminary analysis of dental calculus revealed that their diet was varied. They mostly ate grains, which helped their brains grow.
« It is an extraordinary discovery that the whole world will talk about ”, declared the Italian Minister of Culture, Dario Franceschini. “These findings will help enrich studies of Neanderthals.”
Neanderthals inhabited Eurasia, from the Atlantic coast to the Ural Mountains, around 400,000 years ago until shortly after 40,000 years ago, disappearing after our species established itself in the region. Last year, remains and tools unearthed in Bulgaria revealed that modern humans and Neanderthals were present in Europe at the same time for several thousand years, giving them ample time to interact biologically and culturally.
Often portrayed as the stocky, simple parents of modern humans, Neanderthals, in fact, had similar brains and developed a rich culture. Beyond their intricate stone tools and painted jewelry, Neanderthals adorned caves in art, leaving behind hand-painted stencils for modern humans to reflect on long after their demise.