Stories of life, death and cannibalism in Neanderthal cave of Guattari
San Felice Circeo, Italy, Jun 1 (EFE).- The Guattari Cave in San Felice Circeo, located on the Italian coast between Rome and Naples, hides a history of life and death marked by cannibalism and hyenas, according to archaeologists working at the Paleolithic site.
In 1939, Italian archaeologist Alessandro Guattari found one of Europe’s oldest Neanderthal skulls in the cave, named after him following the major discovery.
The skull, which Guattari found by chance in the middle of a circle of stones, had a large hole in it, as if it had been intentionally broken. This led to the hypothesis that the ancient inhabitants of San Felice Circeo, also known as the Neanderthals, practiced rituals of cannibalism.
“The fact that the skull had been intentionally broken and that the brain had been subsequently removed, suggested cannibalism. This hypothesis had a great impact on the collective imagination and became the most famous story of the Guattari cave,” Italian archaeologist Francesco di Mario, head of excavations at the Guattari Cave, tells Efe.
But today, over 80 years later, the hypothesis has taken a turn after archaeologists recently discovered hundreds of animal bones that had been devoured by hyenas.
“With our work we came to the conclusion that all the human remains found were taken there by large carnivores, probably hyenas,” di Mario adds.
Among the hundreds of animal bones found were the remains of rhinoceros, an extinct giant deer, a cave bear and an elephant, confirming that a pack of hyenas were responsible for the demise of Neanderthals in Italy, not cannibalism.
“Pleistocene hyenas became extinct 20,000 years ago and were much larger than the ones we know now. They were the top predators in this region and were at the top of the food chain,” di Mario continues, adding that the new discoveries showed a “history of death”.
Gilda Iadicicco, editor of the official documents of the discoveries, added that archaeologists recently discovered that the Neanderthals lived outside the cave rather than inside, as was previously believed.
“This helps us understand how they lived,” she says.
Eight more Neanderthal bodies have been discovered around the cave, dating from 100,000 years ago to 50,000 years ago.
The cave is not open to the public yet, but the mayor of San Felice Circeo hopes it will help revive the seaside town’s tourism and economy. EFE