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Bones Of Man's Cannibal Ancestors

Ancient fossils from what archaeologists believe are modern man's ancestors —cannibals who lived a million years ago — have turned up at a dig site in northern Spain.

A jawbone from a young Homo antecessor and a fragment of a skull bone from a 3-year-old or 4-year-old boy were found at a site near Burgos in the Atapuerca hills, archaeologists said Monday.

"It's an exceptional discovery," said Eudald Carbonell, a professor of prehistory and archaeology at Rovira i Virgili University in Tarragona, Spain, and co-director of the Atapuerca research project.

Archaeologists also found a bone from an upper arm of an adult Homo antecessor and the remains of a knife that was "probably used to hunt and cut up animals," he said.

Today's humans, Homo sapiens, are the only surviving species of the larger family known as hominids, which scientists say included the Homo antecessor, the forerunners of modern humans.

Homo antecessors — described as lanky, muscular beings who hunted large game but also were cannibals became the first hominids to migrate into the far reaches of Western Europe more than a million years ago.

Carbonell and his team are examining the Atapuerca site for early signs of human presence in Europe and are looking at the behavioral patterns of Homo antecessor.

So far this summer, they have recovered 260 fossils from the site.

"It proves that there was human presence in Atapuerca more than a million years ago," Carbonell said.

Atapuerca established itself as a significant site in 1997, when archaeologists found fossils of hominids estimated to be 800,000 years old.

The site also has also yielded the largest and most complete accumulation of hominid bones ever recovered — 30 individuals so far estimated to be 400,000 years old.