In 1908, in a cave in the commune of La Chapelle aux Saints, archaeologists made the spectacular discovery of a near-complete adult male Neanderthal skeleton. As an intentional burial, this was the first ever recognised interment of a Neanderthal body. Excavations also produced numerous artefacts and bones of extinct animals. The Musée l’Homme de Néandertal is a relatively new museum, opened in 1996. Besides providing a full account of the discovery of the Neanderthal skeleton by the Bouyssonie brothers, the museum uses interesting display techniques to tell the story of Neanderthals in the evolution of humanity.
The museum has a reconstruction of the Neanderthal burial discovered in 1908. The difference between the Neanderthals and Homo sapiens is effectively demonstrated with side-by-side skeletons of the two hominins.
The La Chapelle-aux-Saints skeleton is about 45,000 years old and has survived remarkably well. This is partly because it was intentionally placed in a small rock shelter. The male individual was probably between 50 and 60 years old when he died, and shows evidence that he was severely arthritic and had lost all his teeth, with evidence of healing in the jawbone. For this individual to have carried on living in this state, he would have had to had his food processed for him. The fact that the body was intentionally buried, in a foetal position, and that he had been looked after for sometime before his death, indicates Neanderthals were not as simple socially as they are often portrayed. This is one of the most important Neanderthal skeletons to have been found.
Facilities & Visiting the Musée l’Homme de Néandertal:
What not to miss during your visit:
The museum offers a guided tour that takes between 45 minutes and an hour and a half. Although the museum is only open between April and November, tours can be arranged by appointment outside these times.
Where is the Musée l’Homme de Néandertal?
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La Chapelle-aux-Saints in the News
- Scientific American (Blog) (December 2013): Neandertal Grave Attests to Complex Cognition
- New York Times (December 2013): Neanderthals and the Dead
The photograph on this page is in the public domain, taken from Wikipedia.
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