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Wednesday, 4 September, 2002, 18:32 GMT 19:32 UK
Neanderthal skeleton rediscovered
Neanderthal, SPL
Neanderthals became extinct more than 20,000 years ago

The beautifully preserved and extremely rare skeleton of a newborn Neanderthal, thought to have been lost to science for almost 90 years, has been rediscovered.

It could lead to new insights into the evolution of modern humans and our relationship with our extinct cousins.


Anthropologists during the first half of the 20th Century were not interested in juvenile specimens

Bruno Maureille
The fossil is of a baby Neanderthal that was just four months old when it died.

It is called Le Moustier 2 after its discovery in 1914 in an exposed cliff near Le Moustier in the Dordogne, southwest France.

A few years after it was found, the fossil vanished.

Some scientists believed it had been taken to a Paris museum.

Neandertahl skeleton, Nature
One of the best Neanderthal specimens known to science
But in 1996, the fossil remains of a newborn Neanderthal were discovered among the archives of the National Museum of Pre-history in Les Eyzies in the Dordogne.

Modern dating techniques suggest that it is about 40,000 years old.

Writing in the journal Nature, Bruno Maureille of the University of Bordeaux in Talence confirms that the Dordogne skeleton is that of Le Moustier 2.

In addition, other bones from a newborn Neanderthal at another museum in France have been found to be from the same skeleton.

Reunited with its missing bones, Le Moustier 2 only lacks shoulder blades and its pubic bone, making it one of the most complete Neanderthal skeletons ever found.

"Complete skeletons are very rare," Dr Maureille told the BBC. "When you are in front of a complete juvenile skeleton you are able to discuss the growth and development of specific morphological traits and this is very interesting."

He added: "One of the reasons that explain why this skeleton was forgotten was a consequence of the fact that anthropologists during the first half of the 20th Century were not interested in juvenile specimens."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Christine McGourty
"It's thought this baby died 40,000 years ago"
Dr Bruno Maureille of the University of Bordeaux
"The location of the skeleton was forgotten"
Reading University's Professor Steve Mithen
"Such fossils are extremely rare"
See also:

25 Jun 02 | Science/Nature
22 Apr 02 | Science/Nature
02 Aug 01 | Science/Nature
11 Oct 00 | Science/Nature
29 Mar 00 | Science/Nature
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