Today we know that six Neanderthals who lived in what is now France were eaten by their fellow Neanderthals some 100,000 years ago. This is according to gruesome evidence of the cannibalistic event discovered by scientists in a cave in the 1990s.

Now, researchers seem to have figured out that Global Warming was the reason for these Neanderthals – including two children – to become victims of cannibalism.


Prior studies have interpreted Neanderthal remains to find proof of cannibalistic behavior, but this study is the very first to offer clues as to what may have led Neanderthals to become cannibals. Scientists found that the rapid shifts in local ecosystems – as the planet warmed – may have extinguished some animal species, so the Neanderthals were forced to get their food from somewhere else.

The researchers examined a layer of sediment in a cave known as Baume Moula-Guercy, in southeastern France, where the excavations performed in 1999 by another team of scientists had uncovered 120 Neanderthal bones from six individuals that showed signs of being cannibalized.


In 2014, another group of researchers analyzed the cave deposits to a depth of 26 feet (8 meters), dividing them into 19 layers associated with three climate shifts. For the new study, the authors turned their attention to layer 15, a silty sediment layer about 16 inches (40 centimeters) thick, covering approximately 98 to 131 feet (30 to 40 m) of the cave floor.

In this layer, charcoal and animal bones were so well-preserved that scientists could reconstruct an environmental snapshot representing 120,000 to 130,000 years ago. They discovered that the climate in the area was likely even warmer than it is today, and that the transition from a cold, arid climate to a warmer one happened quickly, “maybe within a few generations,” Emmanuel Desclaux (research associate at the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis in France and the study co-author) told Cosmos magazine in a statement.

Cannibalism is by no means exclusive to Neanderthals, and has been practiced by humans and their relatives “from the early Palaeolithic to the Bronze Age and beyond,” the study authors reported. The behavior adopted by the starving Neanderthals in the Baume Moula-Guercy should therefore not be viewed as “a mark of bestiality or sub-humanity,” but as an emergency adaptation to a period of severe environmental stress.