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Evidence of Cannibalism Found in Ancient Humans


Image credit: The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London. As the Ice Age was ending, humans fashioned skulls into drinking vessels and left teeth marks on bones.

It is said that ancient humans who resided in the southern part of England at the period of the last ice age would use human skulls as drinking vessels. But it is not clear whether it was a way of showing respects to their lost loved ones, or the sign of glorifying their success over defeated enemies.

Although it might be uncomfortably admitted, cannibalism was regarded a common practice throughout human history all over the world. Such practice did have different meanings, for it was either thought to show veneration fto the dead, or it meant to demonstare the action of triumphalism over enemies. No matter in either way, dead humans could enhance the diet with a protein-rich addition to the diet, even though the cost could be highly met through transmitting the diseases like Kuru.

In addition, many cultures would make a ritual by consuming other humans, and from the evidence from Gough’s Cave, Somerset, this practice had been deeply rooted. Dr. Silvia Bello of the London Natural History Museum has discovered evidence showing that 14,700-year-old human skulls were shaped to drink from.

With a quite long history, the limestone cave could not only be considered as a site of human occupation, but also regarded as a site for further study. As found in the late 19th century, it was evident that the limestone cave was the human habitation of the oldest post-ice age in Britain, and it was suggested that humans migrated from Spain and France at the first sight of the ice retreatment. Since a land bridge exisited over the present English Channel, it was unnecessary for old immigrants to cross it by boats.

In the cave, researchers have discovered the bones from half a dozen people and many animals to be jumbled together. With many being removed in a haphazard fashion, therefore the cave could turn into a tourist attraction, but the human remnants, skulls included, remain in so good condition that they could be retained as the prime subjects for scientific research.

The bones at Gough’s Cave were connected with cannibalism before, because Bello and his colleagues found that flesh had been butchered from human bones of the cave in the same way in which theanimals’ bones were done.

As Bello said, the human remains had been regarded as the subject of several studies. In an analysis made before, scientists could confirm that the cranial remains had been modified to make skull-cups in a careful way. However, in their current study, they found there was a pretty greater degree of human modification than recorded in the previous research. The strong evidence had showed in regard to crushing of spongy bone, disarticulation, defleshing, human chewing as well as cracking bones for marrow extraction.

In his report in the Journal of Human Evolution, Bello said that the human teeth marks on many of the non-skull bones were undoubted evidence for cannibalism. The way in which bones were treated was similar to that discovered at other sites of the Magdalenian culture in central and western Europe, therefore it was Bello’s conclusion that cannibalism was a widespread practice all over Europe in the period of time, instead of an act of special adaptation to living so near to the retreating ice sheets.

Journal reference: Bello, Silvia M., et al. “Upper Palaeolithic ritualistic cannibalism at Gough’s Cave (Somerset, UK): The human remains from head to toe.” Journal of human evolution (2015).