Paleolithic Bones Show Signs of Ritualistic Cannibalism

When archaeologists first began exploring Gough’s Cave in southern England in the late 1800s, they found human bones mixed with animal bones and other artefacts. Excavation of the cave was finally completed in 1992, and scientists have been studying what was found there ever since. A recent paper by researchers at the Natural History Museum of London and University College London is now bringing to light the rather gruesome practices of our Paleolithic ancestors.

The research focuses on human bones that were discovered in 1987. The bones, which are between 14,000 and 17,000 years old, showed signs of having been chewed on by other humans. In 2015, though, anthropologists and archaeologists began scrutinizing some zig-zag lines that had been carved into the bones. They now believe that these ancient humans practiced some sort of ritualistic cannibalism, and that the practice of eating their fellow humans wasn’t purely out of necessity.

3c1703fe8d.site.internapcdn.net

Current imaging techniques, like electron scanning microscopes, allowed the researchers to study the lines in ways that weren’t possible when the bones were found. The imaging showed that the lines were not the result of butchering, but had actually been carved sometime between removing the meat and breaking the bone to extract the marrow inside. This means the person or persons eating the meat had to pause to make the carvings before finishing their meal. This is a strong indication of ritualistic cannibalism.

Further strengthening this theory is the fact that the marks were artistic, rather than functional, and are similar to engravings found at other archaeological sites associated with ritual. The fact that they also found human skulls that had been made into cups and bowls also shows that there was most likely a ritualistic element to the cannibalism.

Why these people engaged in these practices has yet to be determined. Since the bones appear to have been buried, and not meant to be carried around, one theory is that this was some kind of funerary practice. It is possible that they ate their dead in an attempt to pass down the knowledge of the deceased. This would be especially likely if the cannibalized individual was an important and respected member of the group.

The research team plans to conduct DNA testing on the bones to see if they can determine if the remains belong to a group of related individuals or if they were from outsiders. This will help the determine if the ritual was a way of revering a deceased group member or a way of dealing with an external threat. They also plan to re-assess bones found at other sites that might also show signs of ritualistic cannibalism, so they can hopefully find some links to help them better understand the practice.

Next Article
ADVERTISEMENT
  • Insanity and “Lincoln’s Avenger”

    Most Americans know that John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln in April 1865, just a few days after the end of the Civil War. There are even many who are aware of the fact that the fugitive Booth was himself killed by Union soldiers a few weeks after the assassination, when he pointed his...

    Read More
  • Dutch Company Wants to Train Crows to Pick Up Cigarette Butts

    Pollution in the form of garbage on city streets is a major problem in cities worldwide. Discarded cigarette butts make up a large portion of this street rubbish as more than 4.5 trillion of them are thrown out every year. These cigarette remains then go on to contaminate the environment with toxic chemicals and carcinogens....

    Read More
  • The Surprising Diet of the Vikings

    The Vikings are well-known for their warlike nature. It is no wonder then that images of a Viking feast often contain large platters of roasted meat and mugs of some strong alcoholic beverage, with little else as an accompaniment besides perhaps some type of bread. You might be astonished to learn, then, that the Viking...

    Read More
  • Whales and Dolphins Have Human-Like Societies

    Whales and dolphins have long been known to be smart animals. Some of these oceanic mammals can communicate with each other using a special language, and some, like bottlenose dolphins, even use simple tools. They are almost human-like in their intelligence at times. And a new study, published in the journal Nature and Ecology, shows...

    Read More
  • What Happened to Bobby Dunbar?

    On August 23, 1912, the Dunbars, a wealthy family from Opelousas, Louisiana, went on a fishing trip to Swayze Lake, also in Louisiana. The small family group consisted of Percy and Lessie Dunbar and their two young children, Alonzo and Bobby. At some point that day, four-year-old Bobby went missing. Volunteers and police searched the...

    Read More
  • The Unlikely Witch of Edinburgh

    From late 17th-century Scotland comes one of the strangest stories of witchcraft to emerge out of that period. Most people who were convicted and executed for the crime of witchcraft had to have their confessions tortured or bullied out of them. But this person’s confession was totally voluntary and completely unexpected. Major Thomas Weir was...

    Read More
  • The First Vending Machine Was Invented 2000 Years Ago

    Vending machines are a part of everyday life for most people. They can be found just about everywhere, from offices to schools to rest stops on the side of the highway. With the vending machines of today dispensing everything from sodas to electronics, one could be forgiven for thinking they are purely a modern invention....

    Read More
  • Origins of Easter Island’s First Inhabitants Remains Mysterious

    Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui, is one of the most mysterious places on earth. The tiny, isolated island, with a total area of only 64 square miles and over 1100 miles away from any other inhabited area, is perhaps best-known for its giant statues. These statues, known as moai, are themselves a mystery....

    Read More