A researcher is sifting through a rich cache of prehistoric animal bones discovered beneath the floor of Ciemna Cave in Poland. Then, a couple of tiny fragments – ones later confirmed to be from the fingers of a Neanderthal child – catch the eye. And further analysis would ultimately reveal the shocking truth about how the bones had ended up deep inside the cave.
But first things first: who were the Neanderthals? Well, they were, in fact, a type of human – near relations of our own species, Homo sapiens. And Neanderthals are thought to have lived from more than 400,000 years in the past right up until they became extinct around 30,000 years ago.
We first became aware of Neanderthals in the mid-19th century. In 1856 workers were quarrying for limestone in a Neander Valley cave near the German city of Dusseldorf. And, here, the quarrymen came across some strange bone fragments: 16 in total.