Unearthed Neanderthal site rich in horse bones

The spine of a horse. Photos: © Henri Granjean/ Inrap
The spine of a horse recovered from the hunting site. Photos: © Henri Granjean/ Inrap
Part of a horse recovered from the site.
Part of a horse recovered from the site.

A site in southwestern France found to be rich in the bones of horses and other large herbivores has provided important insights into the hunting and scavenging habits of Neanderthals.

A team of archaeologists from the French archaeological agency Inrap have unearthed hundreds of bones at the Middle Paleolithic site in Quincieux dating back 35,000 to 55,000 years.

The work was started due to roadworks in the area, with the outstanding discovery prompting local authorities to extend the time available for excavations.

The excavation of the prehistoric site, on a hill overlooking the old bed of the Saone River, revealed hundreds of animal bones interspersed with flints.

All animal species found there were suited to a cold climate and a steppe environment.

Several hundred skeletal remains belonged mostly to large herbivores: horse, mammoth, woolly rhinoceros, bison and reindeer.

The remains of carnivores were considerably fewer, represented by a bear skull and a few bones of a wolf.

The bones were there as a result of Neanderthal hunting or scavenging, according to the archaeologists. The Neanderthals exploited the carcasses, they said, with some bones showing traces of man-made fractures.

The jaw of a woolly rhinoceros.
The jaw of a woolly rhinoceros.

They noticed that many long bones were missing, suggesting that the meatier parts of the animals had been carried away to inhabited sites.

Archaeologists normally only have an opportunity to explore habitation sites in connection with Neanderthals. In this case, they had an opportunity to explore a carcase processing area.

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