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Finger bones of Homo sapiens neanderthalensis found in Poland.

115,000-year-old Bones Found in Poland are of a Neanderthal Child that was Eaten by a Bird

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In 2013 some very early hominid bones were uncovered by archaeologists in a cave in southern Poland. There have been extensive studies conducted on the remains and they have led to some astonishing discoveries. It seems that some of the bones are those of a six-year-old Neanderthal girl who died a violent death. The bones are much older than originally thought and the discovery is transforming our understanding of the first hominids in Europe.

The discovery of the bones

The bones were discovered in a cave near Jaskinia Ciemna in the southern Małopolska region by a team from the Jagiellonian University. They were unearthed several meters beneath the floor of the cave, which seems to have been occupied by species of hominoids for millennia.  The remains are those of ‘a member of the Homo sapiens neanderthalensis’ reported the First News website. It was initially difficult to identify the exact nature of find as they were mixed with those of prehistoric animals. The find included three teeth and the tiny bones from the hand of a hominid child and they were located near some ancient stone tools and implements.

The find was immediately recognized as very important and there were several years of extensive analysis undertaken. It was only after detailed analysis that it was established that they were the remains of Neanderthals.  This was not a surprise to the researchers but when they dated the bones they were stunned.  First News reports that a professor of the Jagiellonian University stated that “the bones discovered by our team are the oldest hominid remains from the area of Poland”.

Finger bones of Homo sapiens neanderthalensis are the oldest hominid remains found in Poland.

Finger bones of Homo sapiens neanderthalensis are the oldest hominid remains found in Poland. (Jacek Bednarczyk/ PAP)

The analysis of the fingerbones

A detailed analysis of the child’s finger bones showed that they were about 115,000 years old. This is very significant as they are twice as old as the previous finds in the area, which were teeth that date from 50,000 years ago.  Despite their great age they ‘are fairly recent compared to a set of fossils found in Morocco and believed to be the oldest hominid bones ever discovered’ reports the Inquistir. Archaeologists found the remains in a cave near Marrakesh and they are believed to be 320,000 years old.

The finger bones, while tiny, are telling us much about the hominid child. It has been established that she was about six but was no younger than four or older than seven. When analysing the remains, the experts made a gruesome discovery - they had been ingested. In other words, the fingers of the child had been eaten and gnawed. Based on further studies it was found that the finger bone had been ingested by some large extinct bird.

There are two possible theories. One is that the poor girl appears to have been attacked and fatefully wounded by a large bird of prey who ate her fingers. The other possibility is the gigantic bird may have been a scavenger who ate the fingers of the child after she had died.

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Who were the Neanderthals?

The Neanderthals colonized Europe about a quarter of a million years ago. They successfully adapted to life on the continent, but they became extinct about 40,000 years ago. These hominids were replaced by modern humans, but it appears that there was some interbreeding between the two species .  Some 5% of modern human’s DNA and genetic material is derived from this extinct species of hominoids.

These hominoids lived in a hostile and dangerous environment. Early and violent deaths were the norm. The Neanderthals had only stone implements such as knives to help them to survive in this hostile world. They lived south of vast glaciers that still covered most of Poland during an Ice Age. However, the Neanderthals were perfectly adapted to this harsh and brutal environment and even flourished in it for many tens of thousands of years.

The find and the subsequent analysis of the bones are adding to our knowledge of some of the earliest hominoids in Poland. They are showing us that Neanderthals lived in the east of Europe at an earlier date than previously believed.  The findings from the study are being published in a leading academic journal and there are plans to continue to investigate the remains and the cave where they were unearthed.

Top image: Finger bones of Homo sapiens neanderthalensis found in Poland. Source:Jacek Bednarczyk/ PAP

By Ed Whelan

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