Spy cave (Belgium) Neanderthals (36,000y BP). Taphonomy and peri-mortem traumas of Spy I and Spy II: Murder or accident


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Publication Date

August 2019


Spy Cave is one of the most iconic Pleistocene sites yielding two adult Neanderthal skeletons recovered in the 19th century. The cave is located in Belgium and is one of the most important sites for human evolution in European context. The remains of Spy definitively influenced the concept of Neanderthals as archaic fossil humans in relation to modern human populations. This paper shows the results of the taphonomic study of these human remains to investigate the cause of death of the two individuals, and why they occurred at this site, specifically whether they were buried. Excavation in the 19th century lacked some of the present-day methodology of excavation, and there is little information about context, but we have examined the taphonomic modifications of the bones of the two skeletons in comparison with the putative faunal remains found in the cave. Several hypotheses have been proposed for the Spy human remains, from human cannibalism to intentional funerary burials. We will try to clarify the possible cause of death and propose the most congruent hypothesis in the taphonomic context of these human remains, from accidental death due to falling limestone blocks to interpersonal violence.


Pleistocene, Europe, Cannibalism, Forensic, Burial, Falling Blocks, Interpersonal Violence, Tianyuandong

Document Type



Quaternary Science Reviews, Vol. 217 (2019-08).