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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 December 2006, 11:35 GMT
Hungry ancients 'turned cannibal'
Neanderthal jawbones   Image: PNAS
Eight Neanderthal skeletons have been found at El Sidron since 2000
Starvation and cannibalism were part of everyday life for a population of Neanderthals living in northern Spain 43,000 years ago, a study suggests.

Bones and teeth from the underground cave system of El Sidron in Asturias bear the hallmarks of a tough struggle for survival, researchers say.

Analysis of teeth showed signs of starvation or malnutrition in childhood and human bones have cut marks on them.

Details appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Some bones appeared to have been dismembered and broken open, possibly to allow access to marrow and brains.

"Given the high level of developmental stress in the sample, some level of survival cannibalism would be reasonable," the scientists wrote in their research paper.

The team, led by Dr Antonio Rosas from the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid, also found that the bones shared physical features with other European Neanderthals from the same period.

Neanderthal bones  Image: PNAS
Some of the bones were cemented in sand and clay
Dr Rosas and colleagues found a north-south variation in Neanderthal jaw bones, suggesting that populations from southern parts of Europe had wider, flatter faces.

The findings may help shed light on the life and death of the Neanderthals, which became extinct about 10,000 years after the arrival of modern humans in Europe around 40,000 years ago.

Many experts believe they were not able to compete with the moderns for food and shelter.

Eight Neanderthal skeletons have been found at El Sidron since 2000.

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