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A Neanderthal Burial

  • Posted 01.10.13
  • NOVA

Until recently, scientists have encountered scant evidence of Neanderthal ritual or religious practice. A new discovery, though, suggests that Neanderthals—much like today’s bear hunters—ceremoniously cut off panther paws and kept them as trophies.

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Transcript

Decoding Neanderthals

PBS Airdate: January 9, 2013

Inside this cave, a team, led by Michael Walker, excavated a deep shaft, in which they found more than 300 bones from around 10 Neanderthals, buried by rock falls from the unstable ceiling.

Three of the Neanderthals stood out. Walker thinks they weren't necessarily the victims of a rock fall.

MICHAEL WALKER (University of Murcia): If there are rocks falling on you from a natural rock fall, it would be very strange to find nobody trying to escape. And one of them is with the hands close to the head, in almost sleeping position.

NARRATOR: Although the bones of this young female are fused to the limestone rock and are hard to see, Michael Walker thinks her body may have been carefully arranged in a fetal position.

If he's right, this was no rock fall. Around 50,000 years ago, someone had intentionally buried her, piling stones to protect her body.

And this cave had yet more to reveal. Near to the girl's body, Walker's team uncovered the fossilized bones of a pair of panther paws.

MICHAEL WALKER: This articulated paw of a panther was found close by. And since the panther hadn't eaten and disturbed the bones here, it's more likely the Neanderthals disturbed the panther and cut its paw off.

I just wonder whether, in the way that hunters in America cut off bear paws, I'm just wondering whether Neanderthals cut off the panther paw and kept it as a trophy.

Credits

EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS
Alison Turner
Tom Brisley
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Max Planck Institute
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A NOVA Production by Arrow International Media Ltd. for WGBH

© 2013 WGBH Educational Foundation

All rights reserved

Image

(Cueva de los Aviones cave)
© Mark Thiessen/National Geographic Society/Corbis

Participants

Michael Walker
University of Murcia, Spain

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