This just in: being a Neanderthal sucked
... or, as it were, bit. This according to studies performed on Neanderthal bones found in a Spanish cave in 1994, which seem to indicate that many Neanderthals practiced cannibalism. Indeed, they were master butchers who rarely left any potentially edible part of their comrades uneaten -- and that goes for brains and bone marrow as well -- but this says less about our ancestors' taste for their own flesh than it does about the harsh conditions in which they lived. From New Scientist:
Scorned as clumsy, idiotic brutes with little in the way of developed culture, our pitiless modern view of Neanderthals may be tempered by new findings that provide insight into the terrible life our evolutionary cousins faced. Anthropologist Antonio Rosas and colleagues examined the teeth of eight individuals found in the cave and found hypoplasia lines "“ evidence that during growth, the individuals had probably gone through a period of starvation. "One possible explanation is that ecological conditions forced these people to eat whatever was at hand, even human flesh," says Rosas.
Another possibility is that cannibalism held some spiritual significance for the Neanderthals, part of what is shaping up to be a considerably more complex culture than we have previously imagined for them. Either way, it makes me think we were all born at the right time -- even if we do have to deal with global warming, world wars and traffic jams.