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Contrasting Neanderthal and modern human subsistence practices across Europe 50,000-40,000 years ago: an interdisciplinary approach to micro-scale taphonomy and BACterial bioerosion on BONE.

Project description

What separates Neanderthals from us

The behavioural inferiority of our closest cousins, the Neanderthals, in comparison to modern humans remains an issue that many scientists support. However, recent archaeological and genetic research suggests the opposite. The EU-funded BACBONE project will address this issue with a unique, interdisciplinary method that combines bone taphonomy with subsistence practices. The project focuses for the first time on a small bone fraction paired with the microscopic study of alterations to inner bone structures (histotaphonomy). BACBONE will perform forensic experiments and establish a reference database, map histotaphonomic alterations across key Neanderthal and early modern human assemblages from Bulgaria and France, and test for differences in Neanderthal and modern human subsistence practices.


The role of behavioural differences in the replacement of Neanderthals by modern humans remains a fundamental issue in human evolution. While recent archaeological and genetic studies have challenged ideas of Neanderthal behavioural inferiority, up-to-date assessments of differences in subsistence behaviour are still sparse. BACBONE fills this gap with a unique, interdisciplinary approach to bone taphonomy and subsistence practices 50,000-40,000 years ago, a time when both Neanderthals and modern humans were present in Europe.
Subsistence reconstructions typically focus on larger, identifiable animal bone fragments and visible surface modifications. BACBONE combines, for the first time, a focus on the small bone fraction, now identifiable through Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry (ZooMS), with the microscopic study of alterations to bone inner structures (histotaphonomy). This approach provides unique insights into patterns of carcass deposition and processing and has three objectives. First, forensic experiments and a reference database will provide essential background on micro-scale taphonomy. Second, histotaphonomic alterations will be mapped across key Neanderthal and early modern human assemblages from France and Bulgaria, combining the high through-put capacity of microtomography (micro-CT, virtual histology) with hard tissue histology. Third, interdisciplinary dataset integration will test for differences in Neanderthal and modern human subsistence practices at an assemblage and broader European scale.
BACBONE will significantly advance methods in Palaeolithic archaeology and form the core of a new research programme at the interface between archaeology, biological anthropology and forensic science. Necessary training and expertise are exclusively available at the University of Kent (UK) and BACBONE will add competitiveness to European research, forging new transnational collaborations and establishing innovative, multi-methodological research excellence.


Net EU contribution
€ 224 933,76
The registry canterbury
CT2 7NZ Canterbury, kent
United Kingdom

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South East (England) Kent East Kent
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Other funding
€ 0,00