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Monday, 22 April, 2002, 23:04 GMT 00:04 UK
New evidence of Neanderthal violence
Reconstruction of Neanderthal skull (Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences)
Reconstruction of Neanderthal skull
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By Helen Briggs
BBC News Online
Evidence has emerged to suggest the Neanderthals had a war-mongering nature.

The early hunter-gatherers got into fights and used weapons, according to the results of a study of a skeleton uncovered in French caves.

A crack in the skull of the 36,000-year-old Neanderthal was caused by a sharp tool, say anthropologists.

Early humans (BBC)
Scientists are tracing back the origins of sophistication
They think another Neanderthal or an early modern human attacked the young adult.

The Neanderthal survived but would have had to be nursed by other members of the tribe.

The findings indicate that the contemporaries of early modern humans were more sophisticated than their popular "caveman" image suggests.

They would have needed social skills and organised networks to take part in armed conflict.

It may have been a crucial factor in the evolution of Neanderthal and human behaviour, say scientists in Switzerland and France.

Social skills

The evidence comes from a computer-aided reconstruction of the skull of a Neanderthal found near the village of St Cesaire in 1979.

Dr Christoph Zollikofer of the University of Zurich and colleagues say a healed cranial fracture shows the Neanderthal was hit by a sharp tool or weapon.

"These findings add to the evidence that Neanderthals used implements not only for hunting and food processing, but also in other behavioural contexts," they report in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

They say the potential for violence might have spurred the evolution of social behaviour.

Neanderthal social groups gave support to their members

Prof Chris Stringer, Natural History Museum
Professor Chris Stringer at the Natural History Museum, London, UK, is an expert on the origins of humans.

He says several Neanderthal skeletons showing signs of injury have been uncovered in the past.

But to his knowledge injury by another "person" can be implicated in only one other find - a healed wound to a rib on a Neanderthal from Shanidar Cave, Iraq.

Professor Stringer told BBC News Online: "In both these cases the individuals survived long enough for the wound to heal, suggesting that Neanderthal social groups gave support to their members.

"Given that this is one of the most recent Neanderthals known, it is even theoretically possible that the weapon used was wielded by a contemporary Cro-Magnon [earliest anatomically modern human]," he added.

"But it is much more likely that the injury was caused by another Neanderthal."

See also:

02 Aug 01 | Sci/Tech
Meet the Neanderthals
21 May 01 | Sci/Tech
Fishy clue to rise of humans
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