Cecilio Barroso Ruiz, one of the investigators who excavated Zafarraya, has given a short interview about some of the material that has been found at the site. He interprets the lithic and faunal material as suggesting that the site was occupied between 30-27,000 BP as a camp from which Neanderthals would hunt mountain goats. Barroso Ruiz also suggests that climate should be ruled out as the main cause of the disappearance of the Neanderthals since Mediterranean conditions would have prevailed around the site throughout that period.
One of the more provocative interpretations he proposes, however, is that the site has yielded "indisputable" evidence of Neanderthal cannibalism:
During the excavation, that took place in two stages - between 1981-1983 and between 1990-1994 - two femora and a tibia belonging to a female and a small male mandible were recovered, all of which bear "irrefutable" traces of cannibalism. "They would begin by taking the body apart, removing the meat, and after having eaten it, they would throw the bones in the fire where they would burst" explains Barroso. During analysis (that involved the participation of 90 specialists), the bones were pieced back together, bringing to light the cut marks of cannibalistic practices. "It has been said that Neanderthals buried their young, but we have shown that this wasn't the case here, since they appear to have been used as food following their death" concludes the archaeologist. (my translation)
In light of a recent study that argues against the case for cannibalism at Krapina, Croatia, such claims from Zafarraya take on a new importance. Interestingly, if the case for cannibalism at El Sidron (Rosas et al. 2006) is eventually demonstrated unambiguously, it might suggest that cannibalism might have been somewhat more common than elsewhere in the Iberian peninsula towards the end of the periods during which recognizably Neanderthal remains are documented in the fossil record.
Hat tip: Martin Cagliani.
Barroso Ruiz, C., and H. de Lumley (eds.). 2006. La Grotte du Boquete de Zafarraya (Malaga, Andalousie) vol. 3, Junta de Andalucía, Consejería de Cultura, Sevilla.
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