La Ferrassie

La Ferrassie
Exhibit item
Site: 
La Ferrassie Cave, France
Date of discovery: 
1909
Discovered by: 
Louis Capitan and Denis Peyrony
Age: 
Between 70,000 and 50,000 years old

Most complete Neanderthal skull

The excavations at the La Ferrassie rock shelter in the Dordogne Valley, France in the early 20th century produced the remains of an adult male and an adult female, providing scientists with the first evidence of sexual dimorphism in Neanderthals. In addition, the remains of the child and infant individuals help scientists understand the growth rates of Neanderthal children. A total of eight Neanderthal individuals -- including adults, children, infants, and two fetuses -- were found intentionally buried at La Ferrassie.

One of the most important individuals found at La Ferrassie is La Ferrassie 1, the skeleton of an adult male. His skull, the largest and most complete Neanderthal skull ever found (in 1909), has many of the typical Neanderthal traits such as the low, sloping forehead and large nasal opening. His teeth, which are all preserved, are heavily worn, indicating he was older at the time of his death. His front incisors show a slanted wear that does not occur from chewing; one hypothesis to explain this odd wear on his teeth is that he habitually held something in place between his front teeth, such as a hide, that he then scraped with a tool . Although this hypothesis has been debated, the use of the teeth as tools may represent a remarkable Neanderthal behavioral adaptation.

La Ferrassie 1 is considered by many scientists to exhibit the ‘classic’ example of Neanderthal anatomy. His leg and feet bones proved without a doubt that Neanderthals walked upright and with a gait very similar to modern humans. This debunked the earlier reconstruction of the La Chapelle-aux-Saints Neanderthal skeleton by French paleontologist Pierre Marcellin Boulethat portrayed this species as stooped, brutish creatures. 

Neanderthal Fossilized Skull from La Ferrassie, France
Image of Homo neanderthalensis; La Ferrassie 1 Skull, side view