Neanderthal child remains found in Catalonia Cave
Archaeologists in Catalonia have discovered the skeletal remains of a 5-year-old Neanderthal child in the Cova del Gegant (Cove of the Giant) in Sitges, Barcelona. The discovery represents the first Neanderthal remains from Catalonia found in modern excavations.
Past Horizons reports that the finding was made by an interdisciplinary scientific team, coordinated by the University of Barcelona, who uncovered a mandible, a humerus, and stone tools, in a well-dated section of the Cova del Gegant corresponding to 55,000 years ago.
“The preserved morphology of the mandible, particularly in the region of the mental foramen, clearly aligns it with the Neanderthals, making the Cova del Gegant the only known site in Catalonia documenting diagnostic human skeletal remains in association with Middle Paleolithic stone tools,” report the study authors in the Journal of Human Evolution.
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The Cova del Gegant in Sitges (fr.wikiloc.com)
The Cova del Gegant is located on the beachfront and measures 20 meters in length. It contains several galleries with sediments that are between 40,000 and 60,000 years old. The site has provided large vertebrate remains, stone tools, and Neanderthal remains, including the jaw of a Neanderthal adolescent found in 2005, a tooth belonging to separate individual, and now the latest remains of the juvenile. Up until now, the only other Neanderthal remains discovered in Catalonia were from much earlier excavations.
Researchers in the Cova del Gegant, in Sitges. Credit: University of Barcelona
“The mandible belongs to a juvenile estimated to be between 4.5 and 5 years old at death, and the humerus to a juvenile between 5 and 7 years old,” reports the University of Barcelona in a press release. “Remains spatial proximity at the site and their similar ages at death suggest they may represent a single individual of Homo neanderthalensis, the species that inhabited Europe and Western Asia between one hundred thousand and forty thousand years ago. However, it cannot be rejected that both bones belonged to two different juveniles.”
Fossils are 55,000 years old and they belong to a juvenile individual. Credit: University of Barcelona
The complete skeleton of a Neanderthal child discovered on the site of Marsal Roc, Dordogne in France (public domain)
The researchers explained that only a small number of stone tools have been found in the cave, and there is little evidence of impact on the animal remains, for example from butchering. This suggests that the Neanderthals only inhabited the cave for short periods of time. However, “the large amount of hyena remains indicates that the cave served as a hyena’s den”, concludes researcher Joan Daura.
A video (in Spanish) released by the University of Barcelona shows excavations and findings from the Cova del Gegant:
This represents an important new addition to the human fossil record from the Iberian Peninsula and joins the Bañolas mandible in documenting the course of human evolution in the northern Mediterranean region of Spain,
the researchers conclude.
Featured image: Cova del Gegant, Sitges, Barcelona (public domain)