PARIS, FRANCE - Anthropologists have long been baffled by the mysterious disapearance of the Neanderthals about 30,000 years ago. But one expert thinks he has the answer - we ate them.
Reported in the Journal of Anthropological Sciences, the conclusion is based on markings found on a Neanderthal jawbone found in Les Rois, in south-west France. Cuts on the bone look remarkably similar to those found on deer and other animals butchered by humans.
"Neanderthals met a violent end at our hands and in some cases we ate them," said Fernando Rozzi, of Paris's Centre National de la Récherche Scientifique.
The jawbone was found during previous excavations, and was initially believed to be human. But re-examination led researchers to believe that it was Neanderthal.
"For years, people have tried to hide away from the evidence of cannibalism, but I think we have to accept it took place," said Rozzi. He added that the teeth might have been used to make a necklace.
The conclusion is likely to be a controversial one. There's a certain amount of circumstantial evidence for the idea that the Neanderthals were wiped out by human beings. They lived across Europe from around 300,000 years ago and managed to survive several ice ages before dying out around 30,000 years ago - around the same time as human beings arrived on the continent from Africa.
But an alternative theory is that they were simply wiped out by the increased competition for food from humans. Some scientists have also suggested that they died out because they were less well adapted to climate change.