Nickname: The Old Man of La Chapelle
Site: La Chapelle-aux-Saints, France
Date of discovery: 1908
Discovered by: Amadee and Jean Bouyssonie and L. Bardon
Age: About 60,000 years old
Species: Homo neanderthalensis
The old man of La Chapelle
Discovered in 1908, the skeleton of "the old man of La Chapelle" was the first relatively complete skeleton of a Neanderthal individual that scientists had ever found. Buried in the limestone bedrock of a small cave near La Chapelle-aux-Saints, France, this skeleton includes the skull, jaw, most of the vertebrae, several ribs, most of the long bones of his arms and legs, plus some of the smaller bones of his hands and feet. The well-preserved skull shows the low, receding forehead, protruding midface, and heavy browridges typical of Homo neanderthalensis.
Scientists estimate he was quite old by the time he died, as bone had re-grown along the gums where he had lost several teeth, perhaps decades before. He lacked so many teeth in fact that it’s possible he needed his food ground down before he was able to eat it. Other Neanderthals in his social group may have supported him in his final years.
The original reconstruction of the ‘Old Man of La Chapelle’ by scientist Pierre Marcellin Boule led to the reason why popular culture stereotyped Neanderthals as dim-witted brutes for so many years. In 1911, Boule reconstructed this skeleton with a severely curved spine indicative of a stooped, slouching stance with bent knees, forward flexed hips, and the head jutted forward. He thought the low vaulted cranium and the large brow ridge, somewhat reminiscent of that seen in large apes such as gorillas, indicated a generally primitive early human and a lack of intelligence. However, additional discoveries of Neanderthal skeletons coupled with a re-examination of the Old Man’s skeleton in the 1950’s showed that many of the features thought to be unique in Neanderthals fall within the range of modern human variation, and that the Old Man suffered from “gross deforming osteoarthritis”. Thus, the slouching posture of the original reconstruction may have been based on an unfortunate individual with a deforming disability.
But this isn't quite the whole story. A more recent evaluation of the entire skeleton by scientist Erik Trinkaus has shown that, while the Old Man of La Chapelle did suffer from a degenerative joint disease, the deformation caused by this should not have affected Boule's original reconstruction of the individual’s posture. It appears that Boule's own preconceptions about early humans, and his rejection of the hypothesis that Neanderthals were the ancestors of modern humans, led him to reconstruct a stooped, brutish creature, effectively placing Neanderthals on a side branch of the human evolutionary tree. (Boule even gave his reconstruction an opposable big toe like the great apes, but there was no bone deformity that should or could have lead to this interpretation.)
3-D collection link: http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/3d-collection/f-la-chapelle-aux-saints
Site: La Ferrassie Cave, France
Date of discovery: 1909
Discovered by: Louis Capitan and Denis Peyrony
Age: Between 70,000 and 50,000 years old
Species: Homo neanderthalensis
Most complete Neanderthal skull
The excavations at the La Ferrassie rock shelter in the Dordogne Valley, France in the early 20th century produced the remains of an adult male and an adult female, providing scientists with the first evidence of sexual dimorphism in Neanderthals. In addition, the remains of the child and infant individuals help scientists understand the growth rates of Neanderthal children. A total of eight Neanderthal individuals -- including adults, children, infants, and two fetuses -- were found intentionally buried at La Ferrassie.
One of the most important individuals found at La Ferrassie is La Ferrassie 1, the skeleton of an adult male. His skull, the largest and most complete Neanderthal skull ever found (in 1909), has many of the typical Neanderthal traits such as the low, sloping forehead and large nasal opening. His teeth, which are all preserved, are heavily worn, indicating he was older at the time of his death. His front incisors show a slanted wear that does not occur from chewing; one hypothesis to explain this odd wear on his teeth is that he habitually held something in place between his front teeth, such as a hide, that he then scraped with a tool . Although this hypothesis has been debated, the use of the teeth as tools may represent a remarkable Neanderthal behavioral adaptation.
La Ferrassie 1 is considered by many scientists to exhibit the ‘classic’ example of Neanderthal anatomy. His leg and feet bones proved without a doubt that Neanderthals walked upright and with a gait very similar to modern humans. This debunked the earlier reconstruction of the La Chapelle-aux-Saints Neanderthal skeleton by French paleontologist Pierre Marcellin Boulethat portrayed this species as stooped, brutish creatures.
3-D collection link: http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/3d-collection/f-la-ferrassie-1-cranium
Site: Shanidar, Iraq
Discovered by: Ralph Solecki
Age: Between 45,000 and 35,000 years old
Species: Homo neanderthalensis
Blow to the head
Through examining his skeletal remains, scientists found evidence that at a young age, Shanidar 1 experienced a crushing blow to his head. The blow damaged the left eye (possibly blinding him) and the brain area controling the right side of the body, leading to a withered right arm and possible paralysis that also crippled his right leg. One of Shanidar 1’s middle foot bones (metatarsal) on his right foot shows a healed fracture, which probably only enhanced his noticeable limp. All of Shanidar 1’s injuries show signs of healing, so none of them resulted in his death. In fact, scientists estimate he lived until 35–45 years of age. He would have been considered old to another Neandertal, and he would probably not have been able to survive without the care of his social group.
3-D collection link: http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/3d-collection/f-shanidar-1
- Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Human Origins Program: http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/human-fossils/fossils/la-chapelle-aux-saints
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