By C. MICHAEL FORSYTH
MONTIGNAC, France — Paleoanthropologists have reported the discovery of the 27,000-year-old skeleton of a previously unknown prehistoric hominid that may have given rise to the werewolf legend.
Experts are calling the startling find in the Vezere Valley the most remarkable development in the field of paleoanthropology since the Hobbit, known scientifically as Homo floresiensis, was found on a remote Indonesian island in 2003.
Dubbed Homo lycanthropus, the early man stood over seven feet tall, boasted a prognathous jaw with razor-sharp canine teeth, a massive brow ridge, and ears positioned high, giving it an oddly canine appearance.
Scientists believe that the caveman coexisted peacefully with Cro-Magnon Man, the precursor to modern humans, because the remarkably intact skeleton was found in a burial mound side by side with bones belonging to our ancestors.
“The evidence suggests that not only did Homo lycanthropus or the Wolf Man live alongside our forebears, he played a vital role in Paleolithic society,” says Dr. Antoine de Begereaux, leader of the university team that made the find.
“This demonstrates that a great deal remains to be learned about human evolution.”
The discovery may shed new light on the famous prehistoric paintings found in the Lascaux cave complex just 25 kilometers away in 1940.
One particularly striking set, uncovered by spelunkers in a 1974, is known to scientists as the Famine and Hunt Cycle. The series of paintings depict what anthropologists refer to as the first known use of sequential art.
In the first of six painting, a group of men and women huddle about a campfire, portrayed as extremely thin and presumably hungry. In the second painting, one of figures has risen and is striding into the woods, with a circle that appears to be the full moon overhead. In the third painting, the figure now has a huge head with pointy ears and runs on all fours. In the fourth, the mysterious figure is seen returning to the fire, walking erect and carrying a stag in each hand.
In the fifth panel the beast-man leads a band of bow-wielding hunters, now apparently well fed enough to walk, into the woods. In the sixth and final panel, the hunting party encircles a herd of deer.
“Previously, it was theorized that the beast-man figure was wearing a ceremonial mask as some kind of animal god ritual,” says Dr. de Bergereaux. “Now, a more likely theory is that Homo lycanthropus went hunting for game when other members of the tribe were too weak and famished, and brought back meat to save the group.
“Far from being perceived as a monster or a threat, these gentle giants were probably seen as protectors of the tribe.”
Scientists say that the large, hairy cavemen probably hunted during the full moon because it was easier to see.
“At that time of the month as they ventured into the wild, they may have become more fierce, robust and hirsute, just as domestic pigs quickly sprout bristly hair and develop seven-inch tusks when they become feral,” notes French science writer Jean Paul Rhiens, who calls the discovery “intriguing.”
DNA tests will be conducted to see exactly where the Wolf Man belongs on the human evolutionary tree, whether it is a subspecies of Homo sapiens or a cousin to mankind.
“We know that about 2 percent of modern-day Europeans carry some Neanderthal DNA,” notes Dr. de Bergereaux. “It’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility that a small fraction of humans alive today have genes from Homo lycanthropus.”
Copyright C. Michael Forsyth
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