x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Look back far enough, and you may not like what you see

A recent discovery about cavemen cautions those who take pride in their breeding to take note.

Not content with sequencing the Neanderthal genome earlier this spring, scientists have gone one step further this week in getting to know our distant cousins. Studying the remains of 12 Neanderthals that had been undisturbed for 50,000 years, scientists illustrated a more complete picture of their lives. Explorers first unearthed the site in 1994 but it has taken until this week to dig out a grisly truth: they were victims of cannibalism.

DNA from the site suggests that they were members of an extended family. And from the nature of their deaths, they don't appear to have gotten along too well with some of their rivals. Let's hope none of our distant relatives are linked to the crime.

Their killers could have been human. Even if they were Neanderthals, however, that doesn't let all of us off the hook. Thanks to research earlier this year at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, we now know that many ethnic groups share at least 4 per cent of their genetic code with these beetle-browed forbearers.

Those who take pride in their breeding, take note. Look back far enough and you might find a cannibal or two.