Cannibals in the forest: A comment on Defleur and Desclaux (2019)

Ludovic Slimak, Christopher Nicholson

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review

Abstract

Though rare in the archaeological record, cannibalism has been documented among many different hominin populations; however, the mechanisms driving such behaviors remains poorly understood. Recent research that evaluates the hypothesized Neanderthal nutritional cannibalism at the Middle Palaeolithic cave site of Baume Moula-Guercy (BMG) in Mediterranean France, is one case that, in our opinion, is not fully substantiated by the evidence put forth by Defleur and Desclaux (2019). Using site occurrence data from the Last Interglacial (MIS 5e), the biogeography of extinct reptile species, and cut mark taphonomic evidence, Defleur and Desclaux (2019) suggest that the Neanderthal remains found in Layer XV of the cave are the result of nutritional cannibalism. The authors argue that a regional collapse of Neanderthal populations was the result of a depletion of prey biomass, caused by a profound upheaval of local environmental conditions, thus causing the Neanderthals at BMG to resort to cannibalism. In this response paper, we attempt to show that the methods and materials used by Defleur and Desclaux 1) do not reflect the known number of Eemian-aged sites, 2) do not present sufficient evidence related to the environmental stress conditions at BMG that would warrant cannibalism, and 3) taphonomic evidence on Neanderthal remains does not strictly support the argument for nutritional cannibalism. Additional study of the BMG remains is necessary before ruling out other processes related to the post-mortem treatment of the Neanderthal corpses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105034
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Volume117
DOIs
StatePublished - May 2020
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Cannibalism
  • Eemian
  • Eurasia
  • France
  • Neanderthals

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology

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