Washington: Researchers have discovered an ancient mass murder site in Spain that indicates that Neanderthals could have feasted on the bodies of their family members too.
The 49,000 years old site contains butchered remains of 12 men, women, and children who belonged to an extended Neanderthal family and were eaten by their fellow Neanderthals.
After analysing mitochondrial DNA and fragments of Y-chromosomes, they found that the Neanderthals were cannibalised before the ground collapsed beneath their remains and buried them soon after their death.
Additional DNA studies revealed that the members were related to each other genetically, according to lead author Carles Lalueza-Fox of the Institute of Evolutionary Biology (CSIC-UPF) in Barcelona, Spain.
"This looks like a family. It's similar to what you would find if you went to a wedding and sampled the people in the wedding party. If you sample 12 people in the street, you would never find so many people with the same mtDNA,” Science Now quoted Lalueza-Fox as saying.
"The world of the Neandertal was a very small world. They were in these small family groups. When they met each other, things could go from exchanging females to killing each other—even eating each other,” he added.
However, molecular anthropologist Linda Vigilant of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, believes that the sample is too limited to confirm the theory.
Researchers need to know how often individuals who are not close relatives share mtDNA, as well as to check the findings with nuclear DNA to be sure of their conclusions, she said.
First Published: Friday, December 24, 2010, 09:23