Segments in this Video

El Sidron Mystery (02:16)


Cavers discovered Neanderthal bones in 1994 in Northern Spain. Cut marks suggest cannibalism; scientists look for hard evidence.

El Sidron Archaeological Site (01:44)

Each year, more relics are exhumed from the cave system's Ossuary Gallery. Spanish scientists and university students gather to dig every summer.

El Sidron Safety (01:25)

Rains can cause flooding in the cave system. A steel cage prevents fossil looting in the Ossuary Galley 75 feet below ground.

El Sidron Cave Function (02:12)

Human bone fragments and Neanderthal stone tools have been excavated. They date to around 49,000 years old, and appear to have been buried there.

Archaeological Deposit Timeline (01:25)

An expert discusses why a simultaneous combination of human bone and Neanderthal relics are rare.

Neanderthal Lifestyle (01:53)

El Sidron is an atypical Neanderthal occupation site. They ate a wide variety of meat and plants, but were genetically separate from humans.

Neanderthal Forensics (02:40)

Cut marks and cracked leg and jaw bones provide evidence of cannibalism at El Sidron.

Neanderthal Cannibalism (02:04)

There is no evidence of modern humans at El Sidron. Experts believe Neanderthals may have eaten their own species for hunger or ritualistic reasons.

Gorham's Cave (02:15)

Neanderthals were as diverse as humans. No cannibalism evidence has been found at a 28,000 year old Gibraltar site.

Neanderthal Diet (01:36)

While El Sidron relics represent a single event, Gorham's Cave was occupied for thousands of years. Residents ate fish and plants.

Gibraltar Neanderthal Living Conditions (02:19)

Gorham's Cave inhabitants experienced lower sea levels. Archaeologists explore an underwater site that may contain bones.

Neanderthal Tool Production (02:17)

Lithic flakes found at El Sidron show that stone tools were made nearby.

Interpreting Neanderthal Activity (03:27)

A debris flow cone shows that stone tools and bones dropped into the Ossuary Gallery at once. Cannibalized bodies were only exposed for a short time.

El Sidron Sinkhole (02:09)

Scientists believe a shelter was located above the Ossuary Gallery 49,000 years ago. The roof collapsed during a storm, burying Neanderthal remains.

Identifying Neanderthals (02:43)

Scientists use teeth to piece together remains from El Sidron, revealing six adults and six children.

Neanderthal Genetic Research (02:12)

A Spanish scientist describes searching El Sidron for DNA samples. Learn why they are contaminated with modern human DNA.

El Sidron Protocol (02:19)

Early excavators unwittingly contaminated Neanderthal DNA with theirs. Scientists have implemented a sterile procedure to isolate ancient genes.

Creating Neanderthal Models (01:57)

Geneticists isolate nuclear DNA in El Sidron bones to learn their traits. View a physical reproduction of a female.

Neanderthal Social Structure (01:51)

Scientists use mitochondrial DNA to determine family relationships among El Sidron individuals. Women moved between groups to maintain genetic diversity.

Losing Genetic Adaptability (01:26)

Neanderthal groups became smaller, could no longer exchange females, and inbred over time. Cannibalism occurred with hunger.

Neanderthal Extinction Theory (02:19)

Some scientists believe climate change isolated groups, caused genetic inbreeding, and led to food shortages.

Neanderthal Food Shortage (01:37)

Calcified dental plaque reveals that El Sidron residents ate bitter plants—suggesting they were reaching their resource limits.

Last Neanderthal (02:23)

Neanderthal sites across Europe show signs of stress. The Gibraltar site shows they went extinct during a drought.

Lessons from El Sidron (02:22)

The site has yielded more Neanderthal bones and stone relics than any other. Scientists will continue to make discoveries about our ancient relatives.

Credits: Caveman Cold Case (01:30)

Credits: Caveman Cold Case

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A tomb of 49,000 year-old Neanderthal bones discovered in the caves of El Sidrón in Northern Spain led to a double mystery: How did this group of individuals die? And, could the fate of this group help explain Neanderthal extinction? Some bones have deep cuts, long bones are cracked and skulls crushed—distinct signs of cannibalism. Was it a result of ritual or hunger? Neanderthal experts are adamant that they were not bloodthirsty brutes. Will this investigation challenge their views? What happened here will take us from El Sidron to the other end of the Iberian Peninsula where scientists are searching for underwater sites off Gibraltar. Scientists working here had theories—but no proof—for why Neanderthals went extinct. El Sidron may change this.

Length: 54 minutes

Item#: BVL60722

Copyright date: ©2014

Closed Captioned

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