Human Bones Reclassified
Advanced technology validates era to previously discovered bone specimen from Italy
by: Loren March, Staff Writer
ARTICLE IN A GLANCE:
- Researchers have discovered that a handful of bones previously thought to be Neanderthal remains are actually from a medieval human.
- They employed micro-computed tomography (CT) scanning to make 3D models of the teeth to study their shape without damaging them.
- “A lot of fossils discovered in the past… need to be reassessed.” –Physical anthropologist Stefano Benazzi
Researchers have discovered that a handful of bones previously thought to be Neanderthal remains are actually from a medieval human. The bones, which were found in a cave in northeastern Italy, had been previously analyzed, but the advanced technology available today made it possible to study them further without destroying them.
The collection of bones consists of two teeth and a finger, discovered in the San Bernardino Cave, Italy. The remains, which didn’t have any of the distinct features that could be used to differentiate between Neanderthal and homosapien specimens, were originally unearthed in the 1980s. They were deemed to be from a Neanderthal due to the rock layer they were found within, but a taxonomic reassessment conducted at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany has shown this to be incorrect.
Physical anthropologist Stefano Benazzi and his associates at the Planck Institute took advantage of new available methods of analysis to study the specimens. They employed micro-computed tomography (CT) scanning to make 3D models of the teeth to study their shape without damaging them. They also ran DNA tests, used radiocarbon dating, and used molecular traces in the teeth to learn the subject’s diet. All the results that came back confirmed that the remains were probably a medieval Italian.
The findings have particular significance in this case because of the cave’s grisly history. The location was a hermitage throughout the 1400s, was the scene of a massacre in 1510 during the War of the League of Cambrai, and was later turned into a church. It remains unknown whether the bones belong to a victim of the massacre.
Benazzi says that this case underlines the importance of anthropologists looking back at old discoveries instead of only focusing on new ones. “A lot of fossils discovered in the past… need to be reassessed,” he says.
Future findings will be documented in the Journal of Human Evolution.
Loren March is a freelance writer based out of Toronto. She is a Communications graduate hailing from sunny Winnipeg, Manitoba, and currently completing her degree in Urban Studies at York University. Follow her blog at http://lorenmarch.wordpress.com/