Category Archives: SPAIN

Archaeology dig in Spain yields prehistoric ‘crystal weapons’

Archaeology dig in Spain yields prehistoric ‘crystal weapons’

When you see a beautiful crystal how do you feel? Perhaps the perfection of the diamond or the vivid colours of the different gems are your thing? The fact is that people have been fascinated by crystals ever since they had first discovered them.

The gems ‘ names come from ancient cultures that were obsessed with them pretty much, adding them to their jewellery, kitchenware, and weapons. Do you know that even the Bible describes the new Jerusalem after the apocalypse built all in gems and crystals?

An archaeological excavation in Spain reveals that even in the 3rd millennium BC, crystals were an object of fascination and ritual

Archaeologists discovered a number of shrouds decorated with amber beads at the Valencina de la Concepción site, and they also found a “remarkable set of “crystal weapons.

The Monterilio tholos, excavated between 2007 and 2010, is “a great megalithic construction…which extends over 43.75 m in total.” It has been constructed out of large slabs of slate and served as a burial site.

The period in which this site was built was well known for the excavation of metals from the ground, and where there is excavation – there can also be crystals.

In the case of the Monterilio tholos, the people there found a way to shape the quartz crystals into weapons.

However, the spot where these crystals were uncovered is not associated with rock crystal deposits, so it means that these crystals were imported from somewhere else.

The rock crystal source used in creating these weapons has not been pinpointed, but two potential sources have been suggested, “both located several kilometres away from Valencina.”

As the academic paper which focuses on these crystal weapons states, the manufacture of the crystal dagger “must have been based on the accumulation of transmitted empirical knowledge and skill taken from the production of flint dagger blades as well from the know-how of rock-crystal smaller foliaceous bifacial objects, such as Ontiveros and Monterilio arrowheads.”

The exact number of ‘crystal weapons’ found on the site has been estimated to “10 crystal arrowheads, 4 blades and the rock crystal core of the Monterilio tholos.”

Interestingly enough, although the bones of 20 individuals were found in the main chamber, none of the crystal weapons can be ascribed to them.

The individuals had been buried with flint daggers, ivory, beads, and other items, but the crystal weapons were kept in separate chambers.

These crystal weapons could have had ritualistic significance and were most probably kept for the elite. Their use was perhaps closely connected to the spiritual significance they possessed. Indeed, many civilizations have found crystals as having a highly spiritual and symbolical significance.

Archaeology dig in Spain yields prehistoric ‘crystal weapons’

The paper states that “they probably represent funerary paraphernalia only accessible to the elite of this time period.

The association of the dagger blade to a handle made of ivory, also a non-local raw material that must have been of great value, strongly suggests the high-ranking status of the people making use of such objects.”

How Did Paleolithic People Light Up Their Caves?

How Did Paleolithic People Light Up Their Caves?

According to a Public Library of Science statement, a team of researchers led by Mª Ángeles Medina-Alcaide of the University of Cantabria tested possible sources of light employed by Paleolithic peoples to reach the deepest, darkest areas of caves.

Humans need light to access the deepest areas of caves–and these visits also depend on the type of light available, like light intensity and duration, area of illumination, and colour temperature all determine how the cave environment can be used.

In this study, Medina-Alcaide and colleagues use archaeological evidence of lighting remains found across several Paleolithic caves featuring cave art in Southwest Europe to experimentally replicate the artificial lighting systems presumably used by the original human cave dwellers, allowing immediate empirical observations.

The authors conducted their experiments at Isuntza 1 Cave in the Basque region of Spain. Their replicated lighting was based as much as possible on archaeological evidence found in similar Paleolithic caves and included five replicated torches (made variably from ivy, juniper, oak, birch, and pine resins), two stone lamps using animal fat (bone marrow from cow and deer), and a small fireplace (oak and juniper wood).

They found that the different lighting systems all had diverse features, suggesting their likely selection and use across different contexts.

Wooden torches made of multiple sticks worked best for exploring caves or crossing wide spaces since they projected light in all directions (up to almost six meters in the experiments), were easy to transport and didn’t dazzle the torchbearer despite having a light intensity of almost five times greater than a double-wicked grease lamp.

Torchlight lasted for an average of 41 minutes in this study, with the shortest-lived torch burning 21 minutes, and the longest burning 61 minutes. The torches tended to function irregularly and required close supervision when burning–though they were easy to relight via oxygenation (moving the torch quickly from side to side).

How Did Paleolithic People Light Up Their Caves?
Set of photographs of stone lamp experiment.

The authors found the main torch disadvantage was the amount of smoke production. In contrast, grease lamps worked best for lighting small spaces over a long period–with a light intensity similar to a candle, they were able to light up to three meters (or more if larger or multiple wicks were added).

Though grease lamps weren’t well-suited for transit due to their dazzling effect and poor floor illumination, they burned consistently and without much smoke for well over an hour, complementing the use of torches.

The authors made one fireplace, a static system, which burned very smokily and was extinguished after 30 minutes. They note that the location was likely not appropriate due to air currents in the cave.

The authors note that the practical insights and observations gained from their experimental replications are invaluable for a deeper understanding of what it may have been like to access the darkest parts of inhabited caves, especially to create art, and emphasize that future experimental lighting studies will be useful in continuing to unravel our ancestors’ activities in their caves.

The authors add: “The artificial lighting was a crucial physical resource for expanding complex social and economic behaviour in Paleolithic groups, especially for the development of the first palaeo-speleological explorations and for the origin of art in caves.”

Los Millares- The Largets Known Fortified Neolithic Settlement in Europe

Los Millares- The Largets Known Fortified Neolithic Settlement in Europe

Just 17km from Almería between Santa Fe de Mondujar y Gádor lies Los Millares, the largest known European fortified Neolithic settlement, dated c. 3,200-2,300 BC. The site includes a settlement and a cemetery with over 80 megalithic tombs.

Los Millares- The Largets Known Fortified Neolithic Settlement in Europe

Three walls and an inner citadel with an elaborate fortified entrance make up part of extensive fortifications at Los Millares. Thirteen nearly circular enclosures were forts protecting it. Within the three walls are 80 passage graves.

Los Millares was constructed in three phases, each phase increasing the level of fortification. The fortification is not unique to the Mediterranean area of the 3rd millennium; other sites with bastions and defensive towers include the sites of Jericho, Ai, and Aral (in Palestine) and Lebous, Boussargues and Campe of Laures (in France).

It consists of a settlement, guarded by numerous outlying forts and a cemetery of passage tombs and covers around 5 acres. 

Three concentric walls with four bastions surrounded the settlement itself; radiocarbon dating has established that one wall collapsed and was rebuilt around 3,025 BC. A cluster of simple dwellings lay inside the walls as well as one large building containing evidence of copper smelting.

Finally, the fortified citadel at the very top of the spur has only been investigated so far by means of various pilot trenches, which have revealed walls up to six metres thick, confirming the great importance of the structure. Within its grounds, there is a deep hollow, which is thought to be a water cistern but so far has not been excavated.

Los Millares was discovered in 1891 during the course of the construction of a railway and was first excavated by Luis Siret in the succeeding years.

Antonio Arribas and Fernando Molina from the University of Granada later excavated Los Millares from 1978-1995, and analysis continues on the massive amounts of information collected.

The strategic sequence of the site shows that the settlement went through various phases of occupation. The first was during the early copper age (3,200 to 2,800 B.C.) when the three interior walls were constructed.

The second was during the middle copper age (2,800 to 2,450 B.C.), when the innermost wall was demolished and the outer wall constructed, together with most of the small forts outside the settlement itself. Finally, in the late copper age (2,450 to 2,250 B.C.) the first bell beakers appeared, a form of pottery that was produced henceforth on a large scale in the village.

During this late period, some profound social upheaval brought about a gradual decline in the size of the settlement, whose inhabitants gradually retired towards the fortified citadel. The site appears to have been finally abandoned around 2,250 B.C.

Over eighty megalithic tombs are visible outside the settlement. The majority are of the type mentioned above, but tombs without corbelled roofs also exist.

The chronology of tomb construction and use is unclear, but analysis of tomb forms, sizes, numbers of burials, contents, and distributions suggests that the dead were selected for interment and that social ranking had emerged, with higher-ranked groups being buried in tombs located close to the settlement.

Similar Tholos Tombs are common in Mycenaean remains, and a connection is commonly suggested. They are also present at other places in Spain, noticeably at the Cueva de Viera, which sits beside the great Cueva de Menga passage mound. Holed stones are also a common feature of dolmens in the Caucasus region of Russia where hundreds are visible.

Large sheets of slate that were punched through and rounded off to make the entrances we see today, divided entrances. The chambers of the Tholos were lined with vertical slabs of slate, often painted red, sometimes with small niches present (used for the burial of children). The graves were finally covered over with conical mounds of earth and stones.

Many were given an outer skirting of slabs or masonry to strengthen the structure. Almost all the tombs were orientated east of southeast, except for a small group of seven mounds that were orientated southwest.

The tombs were collective with the number of skeletons discovered ranging from a dozen to over a hundred. Burial offerings included objects such as ivory and ostrich eggshell, copper tools, pottery vessels, arrowheads and flint knives.

The presence of such great quantities of mineral resources in the region is likely to be part of the reason for the existence of Los Millares in the first place. The parallel with the Minoans continues in the addition of arsenic as an antioxidant to their copper products. Arsenic is readily available in the local region of Sierra de Gador. Among the buildings dedicated to specialised activities, two areas have been identified as having once housed metallurgical workshops. While along the northern stretch of the outer wall there are several squares and round buildings dedicated to this, the best-preserved workshop is situated in a large rectangular building attached to the inner facade of the third line of fortification. Of considerable size, about 8m long by 6.5m wide, it was built with a solid masonry technique, with a door opening to the east. Inside are the remains of three structures: a mass of 1.3m in diameter with fragments of copper ore, a furnace delineated by a ring of clay with a depression at its centre to put the pot furnaces, and a small structure with slabs of slate in its northeast corner. It is suggested that this building was never roofed, as there is no post-holes present.

Forensic Scientists Exhume 20th-Century Mass Grave in Spain

Forensic Scientists Exhume 20th-Century Mass Grave in Spain

CNN reports that forensic archaeologists and anthropologists from Cranfield University and the Complutense University of Madrid, and social anthropologists from Mapas de Memoria, are exhuming the remains of 26 people executed by local right-wing partisans during the rule of dictator General Francisco Franco at the end of the Spanish Civil War, between 1939 and 1940, and buried in a mass grave in a civil cemetery in central Spain.

Photographs of the victims are on display at the cemetery in Almagro.

Researchers from Cranfield are working with colleagues from the University Complutense of Madrid (UCM) and Mapas de Memoria (Maps of Memory) at the site in the Ciudad Real province.

Similar efforts around the country have recovered more than 7,000 victims of the Spanish Civil War since 2000, the press release said.
Experts are looking for 26 people in total, with carpenters, teachers and farmers among their number, excavation leader Nicholas Márquez-Grant, senior lecturer in forensic anthropology at Cranfield Forensic Institute, told CNN Tuesday.

The excavation will continue until the end of June.

Researchers know whose remains are in the cemetery because they are registered as being buried there, but their deaths are listed as natural, rather than executions, he added.

They have already recovered several bodies with gunshot wounds to the head, bits of clothing and other personal effects, such as buttons, a pencil, and a fountain pen added Márquez-Grant, who said the victims were executed by local right-wing partisans rather than Francoist soldiers.

Family members of the victims have been contacted and it is hoped that DNA analysis can match them and allow for a proper burial of the remains, although matching DNA is not a certainty, said Márquez-Grant.

Some family members have visited the cemetery, where photographs of the victims have been hung up by the researchers.

“It’s quite powerful,” added Márquez-Grant, who said two elderly sisters had visited the site. Their father was executed at the cemetery when they were small children.

Maria Benito Sanchez, director of the scientific team for the project from the School of Legal Medicine at UCM, added in the press release: “As forensic anthropology professionals we have the responsibility of putting our science to the service of the relatives who have been searching for their loved ones for a long time now.”

Forensic Scientists Exhume 20th-Century Mass Grave in Spain
The project involves cooperation between experts from various disciplines.

The team will carry out excavations at the site until the beginning of June, then anthropological and DNA analysis will be carried out until the end of the year to identify the remains.

Jorge Moreno, director of Maps of Memory, said 21 families of victims have been identified relevant to the excavation so far.

The Almagro cemetery site is the largest mass grave opened so far in the province, but there are other larger ones known to hold the remains of hundreds of people.

Franco emerged the winner from Spain’s 1936-39 civil war and ruled the country until his death in 1975. Thousands of executions were carried out by his nationalist regime during the civil war and in the following years.

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has pledged to support efforts to exhume and identify victims of the civil war. Márquez-Grant said government officials have visited the site in Almagro.

“We’ve now been asked to open more mass graves in the region,” said Márquez-Grant, who hailed the success of a model which involves close cooperation between social anthropologists, forensic anthropologists, forensic archaeologists and geneticists.

Some people in Spain complain that the process has taken far too long and bemoan the fact that many relatives of civil war victims have died before they could recover their remains, but Márquez-Grant says that identifying the victims wouldn’t have been possible in the 1970s or 1980s. “It has come at the right time because we’ve got the science to do this,” he said.

Newly Discovered Cave Paintings Suggest Early Man Was Battling A Lot Of Inner Demons

Newly Discovered Cave Paintings Suggest Early Man Was Battling A Lot Of Inner Demons

The discovery of cave drawings in northern Spain by a team from the University of Cambridge suggests that prehistoric people struggled with a range of inner demons, nagging worries, and anxieties as they struggled with life’s demands in the Paleolithic era.

The paintings indicate that early humans had “some pretty heavy stuff” weighing on their minds, archaeologists said.

According to lead researcher Alan Reddy, the images found on the limestone walls and ceiling of the cave trace back to 14,000 B.C. and seem to indicate that early hunter-gatherers were often anxious about their ability to kill game animals, reeled from the challenges of raising a family, and “generally had a really hard time keeping it together.”

“While these pictographs are crude in terms of their rendering of human anatomy, they have a vivid expressive quality that led our team to surmise that Ice Age humans had an awful lot of personal stuff going on,” said Reddy, showing reporters a photo of a rudimentary figure painted in smeared charcoal that appeared to be on its knees weeping into its hands.

“Although we don’t want to read too much into these images at this point, it’s hard not to deduce that our prehistoric ancestors were often desperately lonely and felt like they had no one else to turn to.”

“This one seems as if it’s suddenly waking up in the middle of the night,” added Reddy, pointing to a figure that appeared to be sitting bolt upright on a mat of antelope skin. “If you look carefully, you can still see how the artist used daubs of yellow clay to drench him in sweat.”

Reddy confirmed that other images in the cave include a downcast man apparently being mocked by potential mates for his inability to start a fire, a woman using a stone chopping implement to cut her own body, and a seated man seemingly resigned to his fate at the approach of a charging mastodon.

Further chemical analysis will have to be conducted to determine if the ominous red handprints along the walls were symbolic works rendered in red ochre or simply the result of anguished early humans striking the stone surface until they started to bleed.

“What’s remarkable is how, with just a few basic pigments and the most primitive painting tools, our ancestors could so intensely portray their dread of dying alone or their toxic jealously of alpha males,” said Reddy, adding that only a highly-skilled but extremely alienated artist could use nothing but melted animal fat blown through a hollow bone to convey his dismay at having no one he could consider a close friend and realizing he was too old to make new ones.

“It’s clear that these humans felt so disconnected from one another, so unable to constructively address their problems, that they used these sad, disturbing paintings as their sole outlet for comfort.”

According to Reddy, the paintings not only represent the ability of Late Stone Age humans to express their immediate emotional torment but perhaps also to construct larger, more elaborate narratives of their prolonged, agonizing downward spirals.

Through paint-application analysis and radiocarbon dating methods, Reddy said his team was able to determine that individual artists sometimes depicted their unravelling over a series of months or even years.

“Here you can see the same figure gorging on bison and growing more and more obese, apparently stuck in a lengthy cycle of compulsive overeating,” said Reddy, adding that the self-destructive pattern was broken only once by an extremely brief sequence of dynamic images suspected to be a quickly abandoned attempt at the aerobic activity.

“The drawings finally stop after about 20 meters with a half-finished pictograph of what we speculate is the poor man attempting and failing to fit into his deer-hide frock and pants and then, out of apparent shame, opting not to leave his cave all day.”

“Honestly, I’m glad the paintings didn’t go on much longer,” added Reddy. “Archaeological discovery or not, it’s hard to watch a guy like this.”

The discovery of the images comes just weeks after archaeologists uncovered a separate set of cave paintings in southern France, whose artists reportedly hunted, reared children, and otherwise did the best they could without taking themselves so goddamn seriously.

Remains of wooden safe excavated from the burned-out roman villa in Spain

Remains of wooden safe excavated from the burned-out roman villa in Spain

A rare strongbox from the 4th century A.D. has been discovered in the Casa del Mitreo, a Roman villa in west-central Spain.

Remains of wooden safe excavated from the burned-out roman villa in Spain
Arca ferrata found in Tarazona.

The area Ferrata, a wooden chest armed with bronze cladding and iron spikes, was used as a safe for valuables — coin, jewellery, textiles, important documents — in Roman homes and businesses. Because they are mostly made of wood, only four others are known to survive.

Three of the extant examples were preserved under the extraordinary conditions of the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. The only other arca Ferrata found in Spain was discovered in Tarazona, Aragon, northeastern Spain.

The Domus was dubbed Casa del Mitreo because a sanctuary believed to be Mithraeum was discovered nearby. The villa was built in the late 1st, early 2nd century and was remodelled and expanded several times over the next centuries. It was located outside the ancient Roman city Emerita Augusta (modern-day Mérida).

“It is unclear what the owner did for a living. But it is clear that it was probably a wealthy family because the surface of the house is around 3,386 square meters (36,447 square feet), with 15 rooms, including the bathrooms and the kitchen, as well as four other rooms,” said [Archaeologist Ana Maria Bejarano] Osario.

Osario said: “It is unclear what they did for a living, but it might be something related to commerce or business, and they could even have been using the four extra rooms themselves to sell their wares.”

The house also had two more rooms on the second floor, including the one that collapsed during the fire, the causes of which are unknown.

The ‘arca ferrata’ being readied for removal.

The remains of the arca Ferrata were first discovered in 1994 during excavations in a room of a building that had suffered a fire in the 4th century.

At the time, the condition of the exposed organic remains was precarious, so the team decided to leave it in situ and prevent further deterioration as much as possible.

It wasn’t until 2017 that a comprehensive conservation and consolidation project at the Casa del Mitreo tackled the burned room once more.

It was fully excavated and documented, as were the paintings and artefacts inside the room. It is misshapen from the effects of the fire which collapsed the roof onto the coffer and drove it into the ground. Today it measures 9.8 by 4.9 feet, but its original measurements are unknown.

The ‘arca ferrata’ on a grill for removal.

Archaeologists consolidated the remains to keep the metal parts from oxidizing and the wood from decay.

It was removed intact and transferred to the Institute of Cultural Heritage of Spain (IPCE) of the Ministry of Culture and Sports where it will be studied, stabilized and restored for future display.

Child’s Coffin Discovered at the Real Alcázar of Seville

Child’s Coffin Discovered at the Real Alcázar of Seville

El País reports that the remains of a child were discovered under the floor near the main altar in the chapel at the Real Alcázar of Seville, a royal palace in southern Spain. The burial was found during work to restore the palace’s sixteenth-century ceramic tiles, which were designed by artist Cristobal de Augusta.

Child’s Coffin Discovered at the Real Alcázar of Seville
Two investigators with the remains of a five-year-old girl from the Middle Ages found in the chapel of the Real Alcázar of Seville.

The sarcophagus contained a disintegrating wooden coffin and a complete skeleton – the first to be found in the Real Alcázar – along with pieces of fabric, shoe leather and two mother-of-pearl buttons.

Archaeologist Miguel Ángel Tabales, who is leading the research, is in no doubt that the altar of the chapel was not the little girl’s original burial place.

He also believes she must have belonged to a very powerful family to be buried within the royal palace. His theory is that she was placed to the side of the altar when the chapel was repaved between 1930 and 1940.

“We have not found any documentation to confirm it, but the lead coffin was surrounded by a cist [stone coffin] made from reused bricks held together with cement, materials that tell us it is from the first half of the 20th century,” he says.

“My theory is that the workers found the sarcophagus in another area, opened it and, on seeing it was a corpse, decided to cover it decently and place it near the altar.”

Archaeologist Miguel Ángel Tabales next to the lead sarcophagus found in the chapel of the Real Alcázar of Seville on April 20.

The researchers are in the preliminary stages of examining the coffin and its contents and are still hoping to find a seal in the lead or any mark in the remains of the wood that will offer clues to the identity of the little girl, who was neatly laid out with her hair combed, as can be seen from the pieces of her skull, fractured by the weight of the marble floor.

The theory they are working on is that she lived between the end of the 13th and the end of the 14th centuries. Both the team of archaeologists and the director of the Real Alcázar, Isabel Rodríguez, along with palace warden, Román Fernández-Baca, are convinced that other corpses will emerge. “This is the tip of the iceberg,” says Tabales.

“When we saw the sarcophagus, we immediately thought that there could be more in the basement of the chapel. It could be a crypt that was part of the gothic palace, built by [King] Alfonso X, the Wise, in the second half of the 13th century over the old Almohad palace.”

Fernández-Baca, former director-general of fine arts for the Culture Ministry, believes the next step will be to put the body into context.

“We are going to make a study of the subsoil using a geo-radar to examine what physical elements we may come across and that information will be passed to the Alcázar’s executive committee who will decide how to proceed,” says the warden, who estimates that in three months they will have the results of the carbon-14 test to determine the age of the girl – jokingly dubbed the Berenguela girl (after the marble-like stone) by researcher Enriqueta Vila, who has been to view the discovery along with archaeologist and historian, Pilar León-Castro, both of whom are on the palace’s governing board.

Members of the team of archaeologists in the chapel of the Real Alcázar of Seville where the remains of the corpse have been found.

Anthropologist Juan Manuel Guijo, who is in charge of studying the remains, hopes that the tests will provide information about the girl’s lineage, where she lived, the cause of death and the funeral rites performed at her burial. “She had her arms semi-flexed and crossed over her thorax,” notes Guijo. “And the body had not been tampered with.

We will be able to extract her DNA from the root bulb of her hair [rather than the bones] because when the wood disintegrated, the bones came into contact with the lead, which alters the results of this test.

If we find remains of oils, we will know if she was an important person and also if she had been embalmed, a ritual forbidden by the Catholic Church, but which the wealthy practised in their quest for eternal life.”

It is still not known what the girl died of, although a permanent fully formed molar has helped the anthropologist to calculate she was around five years old and fair hairs on the nape of her neck that she was blonde.

Besides the location, the fact she was buried in a lead sarcophagus – measuring 116 centimetres long and 40 centimetres wide at the head and 30 centimetres at the foot with a depth of 30 centimetres –suggests she was from a wealthy background.

Next to the bones of the little girl, six boxes containing an earthy substance have not yet been examined and may hold further surprises.

The neanderthal family found cannibalised in a cave in Spain

The neanderthal family found cannibalised in a cave in Spain

Researchers uncovered the bones of a possible family group of Neanderthals, including an infant, in a cave in Spain. The bones of the 12 people display evidence of cannibalism, suggesting another Neanderthal group came along and chowed down on the meat.

The neanderthal family found cannibalised in a cave in Spain
Archaeologists excavate the cave in El Sidron in Asturias, northern Spain

According to the study, this tribe of Neanderthals died about 49,000 years ago. Shortly after, the cave collapsed due to a powerful storm or another natural catastrophe, burying their bodies at the El Sidron site.

The finding, detailed in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reveals for the first time genetic evidence of a social kin Neanderthal group. Analyses suggest the group included three adult males, three adult females, three adolescents (possibly all male), two juveniles (one 5 to 6 years old and the other from 8 to 9), and an infant.

“I think this is a pretty significant piece of research, and [it] really adds to the forensic understanding of what happened in that cave,” said John Hawks, an anthropologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who was not involved in the current study, referring to the possibility of cannibalism.

“I don’t see any real reason to question the scenario, but like most cases of archaeological finds, there are always questions as to the fidelity of the evidence,” Hawks told LiveScience in an e-mail. “That being said, my inclination would be to revisit some other Neanderthal sites keeping in mind the relatively strong evidence of cannibalism and systematic ‘warfare’ at El Sidron.

I think there are other pieces that can be put together into a stronger case across many sites — that is I don’t think this was a single incident without parallels elsewhere”

Neanderthal family

The remains have been unearthed over the last 10 years. “They were difficult to isolate because they are highly fragmented, due to the cannibalism,” said lead author Carles Lalueza-Fox, of the Institute of Evolutionary Biology in Barcelona, adding, they included: lots of teeth, mandibles, long bones and skull fragments.

The researchers used mitochondrial DNA, which resides in the energy-making structures of cells, to determine who was related to whom. This type of DNA, unlike nuclear DNA, gets passed down from females only. To figure out the sex of the individuals, the team analyzed the remains for a Y chromosome, since only males are equipped with a Y.

Results suggested the child about 8 to 9 years old was the offspring of one of the female adults, while another adult female was the mother of the infant and child about 5 or 6. The three adult males shared mtDNA, suggesting they were brothers or otherwise related through the maternal line.

Past research of the nuclear DNA from remains of the women who bore the 5- or 6-year-old child suggests she was a redhead, Lalueza-Fox said during a telephone interview. Those results were published in a past issue of the journal Science.

Clues to cannibalism

“There are many different markings in many different bones in all 12 individuals, including traditional cut marks to disarticulate bones and remove muscle insertions, snapping and fracturing of long bones to extract the marrow,” Lalueza-Fox told LiveScience.

These marks “could indicate that the assemblage corresponds to a Neandertal group processed by other Neandertals on the surface,” the researchers wrote. (Neandertal is an alternative spelling of Neanderthal.)

He pointed out that cannibalism is not rare among Neanderthals, though the current finding is unique in its scale (12 individuals). “The dating of 49,000 years ago, on the other hand, indicates that the cannibals should be other Neandertals since modern humans were not around at that time in Europe,” he said.

That means the men in the group are kin, while the women came from different kin groups — a phenomenon called patrilocality. “The authors’ hypothesis about patrilocality is consistent with the mtDNA, and I think it is likely to be the correct one,” Hawks writes in his blog. He adds, however, that the interpretation isn’t foolproof.

“For one thing, Neandertals are already known to be relatively low in mtDNA variation, with very little regional population structure in the mtDNA. In such a population, it wouldn’t be surprising to find individuals sharing the same mtDNA haplotype, even if they were not close kin,” Hawks writes.