Most stories recounting famed fossil discoveries include tales of long hours spent painstakingly searching through dirt and dust. For Bruno Maureille's latest find, however, all it took was a trip to the museum. Maureille rediscovered fossils belonging to a four-month-old Neandertal during a routine survey of a French museum's collections. A paper describing the skeleton (see image), which is one of the most complete Neandertal individuals ever recovered, is published today in the journal Nature.
The 40,000-year-old remains were first discovered in 1914 in an exposed cliff near Le Moustier in the Dordogne region of France. Named Le Moustier 2, the skeleton disappeared just a few years later. Although many scientists believed the fossils had been lost in Paris, Maureille, an anthropologist at the University of Bordeaux, encountered them in 1996 at the National Museum of Prehistory in Les Eyzies, also in the Dordogne. While cleaning and restoring the specimens, he writes, it became clear that they in fact belonged to the missing Le Moustier 2. That's because some of the bones were still encased in sediment that also housed telltale signs of the Vezere River, which flows past the Le Moustier cliff. Moreover, faunal remains in the surrounding sediment were identical to others recovered from the same cliff. With the addition of a right femur and a right humerus (which were wrongly attributed to another Neandertal newborn), Le Moustier 2 is now nearly complete, missing only its shoulder blades and pubic bone.