Though the researchers did not chemically analyze the other tooth and finger bone, their sizes and close association with the molar suggest that they, too, are medieval in origin.
A grisly history
The discovery of medieval bones highlights the cave's long history. It served as a hermitage in the 1400s, and was possibly inhabited by San Bernardino of Siena, a priest and missionary who spent time in the area. In 1510, during the War of the League of Cambrai, the cave was a site of a massacre of local people by mercenary troops. Some died of asphyxiation in the cave itself, where they had fled to seek refuge.
Whether the bones belong to one of those victims or to another medieval Italian is unknown, but the construction of a wall over the cave mouth in the Late Middle Ages likely pushed the bones into the deeper rock layers, where they were mistaken for Neanderthal remains. After the massacre, the site became a church.
The re-categorization of the bones also shows that anthropology should not focus only on new finds, but also needs to look back at old discoveries, Benazzi said.
"We show that a lot of fossils discovered in the past, San Bernardino as an example, need to be reassessed," he said. That work is ongoing, he added, and his research group is working to analyze other remains found in other caves.
The findings will be reported in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Human Evolution.
Original article on LiveScience.
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