Surprising new insights into the minds of this extinct human species suggest they may have been far more cultured than their outdated brutish reputation once suggested. But getting into the minds of a long-dead species is no easy task.
Sometime between 135,000-50,000 years ago, hands slick with animal blood carried more than 35 huge horned heads into a small, dark, winding cave. Tiny fires were lit amidst a boulder-jumbled floor, and the flame-illuminated chamber echoed to dull pounding, cracking and squelching sounds as the skulls of bison, wild cattle, red deer and rhinoceros were smashed open.
This isn't the gory beginning of an ice age horror novel, but the setting for a fascinating Neanderthal mystery. At the start of 2023 researchers announced that a Spanish archaeological site known as Cueva Des-Cubierta (a play on "uncover" and "discover") held an unusually large number of big-game skulls. All were fragmented but their horns or antlers were relatively intact, and some were found near to traces of hearths.
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