Bigfoot Encounters

Long-lost Neanderthal baby re-discovered


From the New By Hazel Muir
04 September 02

A long-lost Neanderthal baby fossil has turned up in a museum in France after disappearing for nearly 90 years. The baby was under four months old when it died and its bones could shed some light on Neanderthals' genetic makeup.

In 1914, the remains were discovered in a rock shelter at Le Moustier, which is near Les Eyzies de Tayac in southwest France. The baby was labeled "Le Moustier 2". Later studies showed that its burial site is about 40,000 years old.

In the early 1900s, the finding sparked little interest. "During the first half of the 20th century, scientists were not at all interested in immature fossils," says Bruno Maureille, the anthropologist at Bordeaux University who rediscovered the fossil.

The bones were thought to have been mislaid in Paris. But in fact, they have been in a museum in Les Eyzies for nearly 90 years. In a survey of the museum's collections, Maureille spotted bones that he reckoned must be the skeleton of Le Moustier 2.

He realised this because some of the bones were still encased in sediments with similar composition to those deposited by the Vézère River, which flows past the Le Moustier cliff. And the animal remains in the sediments were identical to those in samples from the rock shelter where the baby was found.
The skeleton is now complete apart from the shoulder blades and the pubic bone. Maureille says it is beautifully preserved, and could provide all kinds of new information about how Neanderthal skeletons grew and matured. "We know almost nothing about neonate Neanderthals," he adds.

It will also shed light on the genetic makeup of Neanderthals. While adult skeletons are shaped by all kinds of things - the environment, physical activity and disease - the baby's skeleton is almost purely a product of its genes.

Journal reference: Nature (vol 419, p 33) 19:00 04 September 02

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