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Commonwealth takeover of public hospitals "not on"

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said on Tuesday a takeover remains possible, as his government was handed a report by the Health and Hospitals Reform Commission it set up to examine reform options.

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Before the 2007 federal election, Labor said it would seek a mandate for a federal takeover of public hospitals if the states and territories had not begun implementing a national reform plan by midway through this year.

Mr Barnett said West Australians had built and paid for their hospitals and generally speaking had a good health system.

“We will not entertain an attempt by the commonwealth to nationalise our health system and our hospitals, it just won’t happen,” Mr Barnett told reporters in Perth.

“We have a good health system in this state and we have a good health service in Australia.

“If someone is seriously ill, suffers a serious injury, they get the world’s best treatment, and let’s not forget that.

“That is not true around the globe, including among some of the wealthy developed nations.”

Health and education

Health and education were two areas where service delivery should be maintained by the states, Mr Barnett said.

“Imagine a scenario, a member of your family is ill and you have to ring and contact a bureaucrat in Canberra about a local health issue … it’s just not on,” he said.

“Health, education need to be managed and delivered locally.

“They are both areas of partnership between the commonwealth and the state but the service delivery to the people of Western Australia is best managed at a local level.

“The state government will not hand over our hospitals, they belong to the people of Western Australia, we paid for them, we built them, we operate them.”

Hockey attacks government

Mr Barnett’s federal Liberal colleague Joe Hockey called on the federal government to keep its election promise, saying no Australian believed the nation’s hospitals had been fixed.

But Mr Hockey said he could not give unequivocal support to any takeover plan without knowing its details.

Mr Rudd and federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon said the government would wait until it had carefully considered the final report of the Health and Hospitals Reform Commission.

Commonwealth ‘should take over state hospitals now’

The coalition wants the Rudd government to take over the nation’s public hospitals immediately, but NSW and Victoria have indicated they’ll fight any such power grab by the Commonwealth.

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‘Before the 2007 election, Labor promised to seek control of hospitals if the states and territories hadn’t begun implementing a national reform plan by midway through this year.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Health Minister Nicola Roxon say that’s still on the cards, but they’ll “carefully consider” the results of a reform report they received on Tuesday before making any decision.

However, opposition health spokesman Peter Dutton says Labor hasn’t fixed the hospital system as promised and time’s up. “We call on the prime minister today to fulfil his election promise to take public hospitals over,” Mr Dutton said in Canberra.

“That’s what he promised … and that’s what Mr Rudd needs to do today.” But Mr Dutton refused to say whether he thought that was good policy, or whether the coalition would even support the move.

The opposition was open to the idea, he said, but would release its policy before next year’s election.

The government received the final report of the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission (NHHRC) on Tuesday.

Its interim report, released publicly in February, recommended the federal government assume total responsibility for primary care – that is health care provided outside the hospital system.

But it stopped short of recommending similar action for the hospital system, only raising it as an option. Labor has hinted recently it would prefer to work with the states and territories rather than wrest control of hospitals, but Mr Rudd says a takeover is still possible.

“I was absolutely clear cut about that possibility at the last election,” Mr Rudd told reporters in Brisbane.

“We intend to roll up our sleeves, work through the recommendations of the report, work through it with the states and territories and get on with implementing long-term reform.”

Ms Roxon denied the government had broken an election promise by not fixing or taking over hospitals by July.

“We’ve indicated that we will consider this issue in the middle of this year, it is the middle of the year and we are considering (it),” she said.

The final NHHRC report contained more than 100 recommendations and the public expected the government to deliberate and then release it publicly for discussion, she said.

“Some of these options are reforms that are bigger than anything we have seen since Medicare,” she said.

“I think every health minister across the country would openly say ‘Of course further improvements can be made’.”

That may be so, but NSW and Victoria don’t believe handing power to the commonwealth is the solution. “

The level of government which is best placed to run the hospital system is the state government and it has always been my view,” Victorian Premier John Brumby told reporters.

“I think the last thing you would want is a faceless bureaucracy in Canberra running the health system here in Victoria.” NSW’s health minister agrees.

“The reality is it’s important hospitals make more decisions and doctors and nurses make more decisions in their own local arenas,” John Della Bosca says.”The government says it will release the NHHRC report publicly “soon”.

Crashed jet had been ‘banned’ in France

A Yemeni Airbus jet which crashed carrying 153 had reportedly been banned in France due to ‘irregularities’.

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One 14-year-old girl was pulled from the sea alive after the crash, and Yemeni authorities said they had seen bodies at the site of the crash in the Indian Ocean between Yemen and the Comoros islands.

The A310 jet had aborted a landing attempt and was making a second attempt when it crashed, officials said.

It was the second time in less than a month that an Airbus has crashed into the ocean. This time French authorities said the Yemeni carrier had been under surveillance and that the 19-year-old jet had been banned from French airspace.

Bodies and wreckage from the Yemenia airline flight were spotted in the sea near the archipelago’s capital, Moroni, aviation officials said.

The teenager, who was among the 142 passengers and 11 crew on Flight IY 626 was rescued alive, Ramulati Ben Ali from the local Red Cross told AFP, adding that her condition was “not worrisome”.

Arfachad Salim, a rescue coordinator for the Comoros Red Crescent, confirmed she was the only living passenger so far and said local fishermen had also found wreckage, passengers handbags and other effects.

A man identified as one of the girl’s rescuers told France’s Europe 1 radio that the teenager was seen swimming in choppy waters in the middle of bodies and plane debris around 4am local time.

“We tried to throw a life buoy. She could not grab it. I had to jump in the water to get her,” the rescuer said.

“She was shaking, shaking. We put four covers on her. We gave her hot, sugary water. We simply asked her name, village.”

There were no reports of other survivors. Officials said the plane crashed into rough seas in darkness, after disappearing from control tower radar screens at 1.51am local time on Tuesday.

“They are saying the plane was making its approach, that it pulled out of the approach and then tried another approach that went wrong,” French Transport Minister Dominique Bussereau told French radio.

Witnesses told AFP they saw the jet turn back from an attempted landing.

“I saw the plane approach and then go away again, I just could not understand it,” said former defence minister Houmed Msaidie, who went to Moroni-Hahaya airport to pick up his mother-in-law.

The flight left Paris on Monday for Marseille and Sanaa, where passengers switched to the older Airbus to continue to Djibouti and Moroni.

Bussereau said French inspectors had in 2007 found numerous faults on the A310 and that the airline was being closely monitored by EU authorities.

“The plane had not since then reappeared in our country,” he told i-tele news.

According to an EU legal document, other inspections in Germany and Italy had shown up “deficiencies” with the airline, and in July last year the EU commission had insisted Yemenia provide an “action plan” to address safety concerns.

Yemen’s Transport Minister Khaled al-Wazir told AFP the plane was technically sound and had “been overhauled in May 2009 and regularly flew to Europe”.

“Only a week back it flew from London,” he said.

French civil aviation officials said 66 passengers were French. Many of the passengers were likely to hold dual nationality, however. Three small babies were also among the passengers, officials said.

France sent two navy ships and a plane from its nearby Indian Ocean territories to help the rescue and Madagascar said it was sending a vessel as well.

“Bodies were seen floating on the surface of the water and a fuel slick was also spotted about 16 or 17 nautical miles (30km) from Moroni,” senior Yemeni civil aviation official Mohammad Abdel

Kader told reporters in Sanaa.

“Weather conditions were bad,” he said. “The sea was rough.”

Airbus, which is still reeling from the crash of an Air France A330-320 into the Atlantic on June 1 with 228 people on board, immediately set up a crisis cell and sent investigators to the

Comoros.

No cause has yet been announced for the Air France disaster. The black box flight recorders have yet to be found and their signal is due to stop emitting on July 2.

The European plane maker said the jet which crashed off Moroni was made in 1990 and had been operated by Yemenia since 1999.

Airbus said in a statement the jet had accumulated approximately 51,900 hours in the air from some 17,300 flights.

The Yemenia flight started at Paris Charles de Gaulle on Monday morning, using a more modern Airbus A330-200 for the first legs of the journey.

The plane flew to Marseille in southern France, where there is a large Comoran community, and then went on to Sanaa. There were about 100 passengers on board when it left Marseille, Yemeni civil aviation official Kader said.

In the Yemen capital, people from various Arab states joined the flight and the passengers changed to the Airbus A310 which first flew to Djibouti.

Two winners share $106 m lotto

The champagne corks will be popping for two lucky winners who scored the second highest payouts ever made from an Australian lotto jackpot.

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The winners from Queensland and South Australia will each add $53,274,992.38 to their bank accounts from the record-breaking $106 million Oz Lotto first division prize.

And another 60 people will each get more than $33,000 from the second division pool.

The huge payouts are eclipsed only by the record $58.7 million win by a single Powerball entry in June 2008, by a syndicate of workmates who bought the winning ticket in the Melbourne suburb of Reservoir.

The Tuesday night jackpot draw originally set for $90 million was pushed up by a surge of late entries, taking the first division prize to $106.548 million and the total prize pool to $177.422 million.

Provisional results show that national sales for the draw reached a record $209,067,609, a statement released by NSW Lotteries said.

Ticket-holders only had a 45 million to one chance of winning, but that did not stop Australians buying 10 million entries for the record draw.

Tattersalls spokeswoman Karen Anning said the two winners would be notified before the agents they purchased tickets from were revealed.

Victoria posted close to three million entries, while Queensland recorded over 2.2 million entries in the draw, Ms Anning said.

Lotto officials estimated that one in three Australians would enter the draw.

The winning numbers were 12, 3, 38, 21, 23, 29 and 40, with 43 and 22 as the supplementary numbers.

Jackson’s body off to Neverland

Michael Jackson’s body is set to make a final journey to Neverland Ranch, fueling speculation that the sprawling fantasy retreat could become a permanent memorial to the tragic pop icon.

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A 30-car motorcade reportedly plans to escort the body this week to the King of Pop’s 1,050-hectare (2,600-acre) estate, a monument to Jackson’s obsession with childhood that once included a fairground and a private zoo.

CNN and the celebrity news website TMZ广西桑拿,, quoting police sources, said the Jackson family planned a public viewing on Friday – which could draw a crush of fans to the isolated ranch north of Los Angeles.

Tributes flow

Jackson’s death at the age of 50 last week has sparked a worldwide outpouring of tributes which continued on Tuesday with crowds gathering at New York’s famous Apollo Theater for a celebration of the star’s life.

Friday’s public viewing could be an indication that the Jackson family has permanent plans for Neverland.

Santa Barbara County officials said Tuesday they had received no formal notification of a memorial but said departments were “preparing to accommodate a large event” if a request for a Neverland funeral was made.

Calls for Neverland gravesite

Some fans say the star should be buried at the ranch and want it to be transformed into a shrine similar to Elvis Presley’s Graceland.

Neverland was named after the fantasy island of Peter Pan, Jackson’s inspiration who refused to grow up.

But the estate fell into disrepair after becoming the alleged crime scene in Jackson’s 2005 trial on child molestation charges. Jackson vacated the property following his acquittal and never lived there again.

The estate was reportedly on the verge of foreclosure before Jackson’s death as his extravagant lifestyle and mounting personal and legal problems took their toll on his finances.

Legal issues

The long-term fate of Neverland has been one of the myriad legal issues arising from Jackson’s sudden death.

A judge on Monday gave Jackson’s 79-year-old mother, Katherine, temporary control over his estate including Neverland and the rights to songs of the Beatles. She was also named temporary guardian of his three children.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Jackson drafted a will in 2002 that divided his estate between his mother, his three children and one or more charities.

Father cut out of will

Conspicuously absent was his father, Joe Jackson, who groomed his nine children into musical sensations but had an uneasy relationship with his son.

Michael Jackson said the family patriarch, a steelworker, would beat him when he missed a note and humiliate him, leading to the pop star’s fragility and obsession with childhood.

Joe Jackson said that he and his wife were ready to be supportive parents to the pop star’s three children.

“This is where they belong,” Joe Jackson, also 79, told reporters after the decision. “We’re going to take care of them and give them the education they’re supposed to have.”

Jackson’s former wife of three years, Debbie Rowe, is the mother of the two eldest children — Prince Michael, 12, and Paris, 11. The third, seven-year-old Prince Michael II, was born in 2002 to a surrogate whose identity has never been made public.

Final resting place undecided

It remains unclear where the star would ultimately be buried. The family has hesitated at funeral plans after authorizing a second autopsy to determine how he died.

The Los Angeles Times reported that police detectives are seeking to identify and interview “multiple doctors” who treated Jackson in the years before his death.

Attention has so far focused on the role of Jackson’s doctor Conrad Murray, who was with the star just before his death last Thursday.

Lawyers for Murray and law enforcement sources have said he is not suspected of wrongdoing and has co-operated with the investigation.

Investigation into cause of death

On Monday, coroner’s office investigators removed several plastic bags of medication from Jackson’s rented mansion in Holmby Hills, described as “additional medical evidence.”

Meanwhile the organizers of a series of Jackson’s planned comeback concerts in London revealed Tuesday that video footage of his rehearsals existed and could be released to the public.

The president of promoters AEG Live, Randy Phillips, told Sky News television that video of the pop legend’s performances would disprove rumors that he was incredibly frail before his death.

“We may at some point release some footage of him in rehearsal that would totally refute that,” he said.

Iraq bomb kills 27 as US pulls out

Another 80 people were wounded in the bombing in a market area of the city which has long been riven by ethnic tensions.

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“The morgue received 27 bodies,” the city’s health director Dr Sabah Mohammed al-Dawoudi told AFP.

“A local hospital received 80 wounded. All of the killed and wounded are civilians, among them women, children and men. The explosion happened at the peak time for shopping.”

The blast struck at around 6 pm local time in the central Shurga district, an interior ministry official said.

The blast devastated the area, an AFP reporter at the scene said.

Internal tensions

Kirkuk is plagued with tensions among its Kurdish, Turkmen and Arab communities. Many of the Arabs were settled in the province by executed dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime in a deliberate attempt to dilute its historic Kurdish majority.

The tensions prevented the holding of elections in the province on January 31, when the rest of Iraq except the three northern provinces that currently form a Kurdish autonomous region voted for new councils.

The bombing came as US troops pulled back from all Iraqi urban areas under a security pact signed between the two governments last November.

Biden to take new role overseeing Iraq policy

President Barack Obama has asked Vice President Joe Biden to take on a new role overseeing the US departure from Iraq and Washington’s effort to promote internal political reconciliation there.

The White House said Tuesday that Biden would work closely with General Ray Odierno, the top US commander in Iraq and US ambassador to Baghdad Christopher Hill as US forces prefer to leave for good by the end of 2011.

“The vice president has been asked by the president to oversee the policy,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs has said.

Working with Iraq

Biden would work with Iraqis “toward overcoming their political differences and achieving the type of reconciliation that we all understand has yet to fully take place but needs to take place.”

“Given his knowledge of the region, the number of times he’s been there, he’s perfectly suited for this type of role,” Gibbs said.

Biden, who was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee before becoming vice president, has made repeated trips to Iraq, and is playing a similar role overseeing a 787 billion economic stimulus package.

Autonomous zones

Gibbs said that an idea once put forward by Biden, of dividing Iraq’s Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish communities into a federation of autonomous zones, was not on the table for the Obama administration.

He said the vice president’s role would likely include travel to Iraq and also meetings with the key players on US Iraq policy.

Biden’s new portfolio had been rumored for several days, and Gibbs confirmed the reports on the day that US troops withdrew from the center of Iraqi cities and towns under an agreement with the Baghdad government.

ACTU welcomes new IR system

The first day of the Rudd government’s Fair Work industrial relations era is a historic occasion, and one that will be celebrated by workers across the country, ACTU president Sharan Burrow says.

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The new Fair Work Australia system came into force on Wednesday, replacing the Howard government’s unpopular Work Choices.

Under the Fair Work Act, unfair dismissal laws will once again apply to small businesses, a stronger safety net applies and collective bargaining is preferred to individual contracts.

A new and more powerful industrial umpire, Fair Work Australia, replaces the Fair Pay Commission.

Ms Burrow welcomed the dawning of the new industrial relations era, saying it was a historic day for the country.

It was the beginning of a “harmonious, respectful” future for workers, she said.

“Across the country Australian workers are celebrating,” she told reporters in Sydney.

“They stood up against Work Choices … they fought to get back unfair dismissal rights, a safety net standard for awards, the right to bargain collectively and an independent umpire.

“Today, families, working Australians, their unions and employers can get on with the show.”

ACTU secretary Jeff Lawrence urged employers, who have voiced fears of excessive wage claims and a return to pattern bargaining, to embrace the Fair Work system.

“We call on all the employers in Australia to recognise the rights people have under this legislation to sit down with their union, and to negotiate a collective agreement when that will provide a safer workplace … and ultimately greater protections and rights,” he said.

Japan hopes worst is over

Japan’s business executives have become more confident for the first time since 2006, supporting hopes the worst recession since World War II is easing.

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But the rebound was smaller than expected, suggesting that the world’s second largest economy faces a rocky road to recovery, analysts said.

The sentiment index for major manufacturers rose to minus 48 in June from a record low of minus 58 in March, the Bank of Japan’s quarterly Tankan survey showed.

It was the first improvement since December 2006 and the sharpest increase since June 2002, when the index jumped 20 points.

The results, however, fell short of market forecasts for a figure of about minus 43.

Macquarie Securities economist Richard Jerram said the survey was “a bit on the disappointing side.”

Compared with other confidence surveys in Japan, the main Tankan indices have been slow to recover, he noted.

The confidence index for major non-manufacturers improved only slightly, to minus 29, from minus 31 three months earlier.

A negative figure suggests the mood remains gloomy overall. The index measures the percentage of firms that think business conditions are good minus those that believe they are bad.

Analysts say Japan is probably through the worst of its recession.

But there are worries that even if the current recession ends, the economy could start contracting again once the effects of economic stimulus measures fade, entering a so-called “double-dip” recession.

“We cannot help being concerned about the risks of a double-dip in the Japanese economy,” said Naoki Murakami, chief economist at Monex Securities.

The Tankan found that big manufacturers expect sentiment to continue to improve, forecasting a confidence rating of minus 30 for September.

But they have downgraded their profit outlook, forecasting a 39.5 percent drop in pre-tax earnings for the current financial year to March. Three months earlier they had expected a 19.7 percent decline.

Before the current economic downturn began, Japan’s corporate sector had been a key driver of a recovery in Asia’s largest economy following the recessions of the 1990s.

Now major exporters, many of which are deep in the red, are cutting back their investment in an effort to ride out the recession.

Large firms across all sectors plan to trim their investment in factories and equipment by 9.4 percent on average for the current fiscal year, the Tankan results showed.

Asia’s biggest economy shrank at an annualised pace of 14.2 percent in the first quarter of 2009, the worst performance on record.

Experts say a full-fledged recovery is unlikely in Japan until demand picks up in major overseas markets such as the United States and Europe.

While hopes are mounting that Japan’s economy has come through the worst of its export and production slump, figures released Tuesday showed the unemployment rate rose to a more than five-year high of 5.2 percent in May.

The government has announced a series of economic stimulus packages, including cash handouts for households and incentives to buy fuel-efficient cars.

Spain, Uruguay report first swine flu deaths

Spain and Uruguay reported their first deaths from swine flu, as Canada expressed fears that young people were particularly vulnerable to the virus.

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In Spain, a 20-year-Moroccan woman died at a Madrid hospital Tuesday, becoming the country’s first fatality from the A(H1N1) infection.

The woman in Spain, who suffered from asthma, died at dawn of a respiratory illness provoked by the infection, said a health ministry statement.

Seven-months pregnant when she arrived at the hospital, she had been receiving treatment for several days.

When her condition deteriorated Monday, doctors carried out a Caesarean delivery of the baby, who was fragile but in good health and unaffected by the virus, said the ministry statement.

Three other patients were be in a serious condition in Spanish hospitals, said health officials. Her death was the fourth from swine flu in Europe.

Late Monday, Britain reported its third swine flu death — a schoolgirl who officials said had had underlying health problems.

In the Uruguayan capital Montevideo health ministry officials reported the country’s first victim, a 60-year-old woman.

“Late today a woman died in Montevideo with multiple organ failure and tests confirmed the presence of the A(H1N1) virus,” the ministry said in a statement. Uruguay has 195 confirmed cases of swine flu, including 12 requiring hospitalization, according to the ministry.

Health authorities in Canada meanwhile expressed alarm that young people were being hit hardest by the infection.

Preliminary data showed that the virus had mostly infected people under the age of 20 in Canada, and relatively few people over 65.

During seasonal influenza outbreaks, it is usually the elderly who account for 25 percent of infections, and most deaths. “So this is quite different,” Chief Public Health Officer David Butler-Jones said.

“Although we do expect some cases to be severe in any influenza outbreak, especially when there is underlying factors such as chronic lung disease or diabetes, there are some cases (now) where the individual was previously healthy before catching this virus and rapidly has progressed to severe illness and required a ventilator,” he said.

Figures released by the World Health Organisation on Monday meanwhile had report the death toll from the pandemic at 311 and total infections at 70,893 — up more than 10,000 on the figures release the previous Friday. US researchers said in a new study published Tuesday that the virus responsible for the Spanish flu in 1918 created a viral dynasty that persists today.

The research, published Tuesday by the New England Journal of Medicine, said not only did the Spanish flu’s H1N1 virus cause tens of millions of deaths in 1918, it was also transmitted from humans to pigs during the pandemic and continues to evolve today.

“The 1918-1919 influenza pandemic was a defining event in the history of public health,” said Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a co-author of the study.

Jeffrey Taubenberger, the senior investigator at NIAID’s Laboratory of Infectious Diseases, said all human-adapted influenza A viruses were descendents, direct or indirect, of that founding virus.

Thus we can be said to be living in a pandemic era that began in 1918,” he added.

First Europeans ‘ate children’

The remains of the “first Europeans” discovered at an archaeological site in northern Spain have revealed that these prehistoric humans were cannibals who particularly liked the flesh of children.

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“We know that they practiced cannibalism,” said Jose Maria Bermudez de Castro, one of the co-directors of the Atapuerca project, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A study of the remains revealed that they turned to cannibalism to feed themselves and not as part of a ritual, that they ate their rivals after killing them, mostly children and adolescents.

“It is the first well-documented case of cannibalism in the history of humanity, which does not mean that it is the oldest,” he said.

The remains discovered in the caves “appeared scattered, broken, fragmented, mixed with other animals such as horses, deer, rhinoceroses, all kinds of animals caught in hunting” and eaten by humans, he said.

“This gives us an idea of cannibalism as a type of gastronomy and not as a ritual.”

The Atapuerca caves were first discovered in the late 19th century when a tunnel was blasted through the mountain for a railway line.

“But at the time in Spain there was not enough scientific knowledge to begin research,” said the other co-director, Eudald Carbonell.

The first excavations did not take place until 1978. Then “in 1984, we found 150 human remains”.

In 1992 they found a complete, intact skeleton and two years later they discovered remains dating back more than 800,000 years.

Those remains probably correspond to the first humans who reached Europe, known as Homo antecessor, after the Latin word for pioneer or explorer.

Homo antecessor, who lived before Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens, probably came to the caves of Atapuerca after a long migration from Africa and through the Middle East, northern Italy and France.

It is a particularly good site for human settlement, at the confluence of two rivers with a comfortable climate and rich in fauna and flora, de Castro said.

The area at the time was heavily forested, with oaks, chestnut trees and junipers and abundant with bears, lynxes, panthers, foxes and hyenas.

They found water and food in abundance, could hunt wild boar, horses, deer, “which means that they did not practice cannibalism through a lack of food. They killed their rivals and used the meat,” Carbonell said.

“We have also discovered two levels that contain cannibalised remains, which means that it was not a one-off thing but continued through time,” he said.

“Another interesting aspect is that most of the 11 individuals that we have identified were children or adolescents.

“We think that there are also two young adults including a female, which indicates that they killed the base of the demographic pyramid of the group.”

Atapuerca, situated on the edge of Eurasia, allowed the Homo antecessor to develop in an isolated and distinct way, with characteristics that were both archaic and modern.