An article published in the “Journal of Human Evolution” describes a new examination of the skeleton of one of the most famous Neanderthal men, known as La Ferrassie 1 because he was discovered on the French site of La Ferrassie in 1909. A team of researchers led by Dr. Asier Gomez-Olivencia of the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) subjected the skeleton to exams that take advantage of new technologies and get new information on its species and on the physical problems of this man who lived some tens of thousands of years ago.
The Neanderthal man known as La Ferrassie 1 was found along with the remains of an adult woman and several children in what was interpreted as a tomb in which they were intentionally buried. Neanderthals were already known but a century ago they were considered more apes than human beings so that discovery was important in reviewing those judgments.
La Ferrassie 1 was particularly important in the research on Neanderthals because of his skeleton’s excellent state of conservation, especially of his skull, the most complete of his species found so far. The photo (©Photaro) shows a reproduction of his skeleton and an artistic reconstruction of the possible man’s appearance.
For decades the skull of La Ferrassie 1 was the largest known hominid skull, only surpassed in the 1960s by the one of another Neanderthal. These measurements were also important because they showed that this species had brains that could be even larger than those of modern humans.
The cave in which the skeletons of La Ferrassie 1 and the other Neanderthals were discovered was occupied several times by that species of hominins over the millennia. The man lived between 40,000 and 54,000 years ago and died at an age of probably more than 50, an old man by his time’s standards. Various fractures suffered during his life were already known, this time the researchers hoped to discover more details, also in areas difficult to examine with the naked eye and not just of the fractures.
To achieve their goal, the researchers subjected La Ferrassie 1’s skeleton to CT and microCT scans that allowed to create a 3D reconstruction and consequently a virtual model. This allowed for example to discover that the bones of the middle ear – malleus, incus and stapes – maintained their position in the skull thanks to the sediments of the cave floor.
The bones of the middle ear are the smallest of the human body and often don’t preserve for so many millennia so it’s an important discovery in the study of Neanderthals. The examination of the skull fractures is also important because the conclusion is that they are post-mortem, due to the sediments weight. Applying modern forensic criteria of the burial interpretation, the researchers concluded that it’s a confirmation that the burial was intentional.
The skeleton also shows some problems the man had in his life besides some fractures such as a form of arthritis and a mild scoliosis. New technologies already allowed to obtain important results in the field of paleontology and in this case in that of paleoanthropology since it provided information on Neanderthals’ anatomy but also provided confirmation on their treatment of their dead.