Friday, June 03, 2005

Cave Bears an Neanderthals

As mentioned several posts ago, scientists have succeeded in sequencing the nuclear DNA of cave bears. It is estimated that the DNA in question was approximately 40,000 years old. The possibility was raised the the technique could be used to sequence Neanderthal nuclear DNA. Previous attempts to sequence Neanderthal DNA focussed on mitochondrial DNA (a circular DNA found in the mitochondria of cells) with varying degrees of success. Interestingly enough, Neanderthals and Cave bears go together - more or less.

Drachenloch Cave Posted by Hello

At one time it was thought that Neanderthals had a cult centered around cave bears. Cave bear skeletons are found frequently in Europe. In several caves the bear skeletons were found, ostensibly, neatly arranged as if part of a shrine. The caves, such as Drachenloch above, contained largely intact bear skeletons neatly arranged around the periphery. At least one skelton was on a stone slab attributed to Neanderthal construction. Unfortunately for the theory, there are no Neanderthal artifacts, no cut markes indicative of human activity on the bones, no signs of Neanderthal occupation at all. Worse yet, the cave bear bones in the center areas of the cave were scrambled and broken while those at the periphery or in difficult to access areas were not. The cave bears occupied the cave for quite a while so skeletons in the center areas got trampled and disarticulated. Skeletons in the periphery were less likely to be disturbed. Further research indicates that carnivores - especially large ones - are actually quite rare at Neanderthal sites.