New Stone Age Evidence of Cannibalism

Credit: © The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London

Cranial remains modified to make a skull-cup. This research
identifies a far greater degree of human modification than
recorded in earlier, including evidence for defleshing,
disarticulation, human chewing, crushing of spongy bone,
and the cracking of bones to extract marrow.
 
One long-standing question in paleo-archaeology is cannibalism. That our ancestors did, in fact, eat other humans is established even into modern times.  The question is why.

Was it desperation as in the Donner Pass incident of the 19th century?  Or, perhaps rituals linked to religion?  Did ancient humans eat members of their own clan or tribe, or, were they consuming the flesh of enemies?  Or of other human species?

Analysis of ancient cadavers recovered at a famous archaeological site confirm the existence of a sophisticated culture of butchering and carving human remains, according to a team of scientists from the Natural History Museum, University College London, and a number of Spanish universities.


Gough's Cave in Somerset, now a tourist attraction, was thought to have given up all its secrets when excavations ended in 1992, yet research on human bones from the site has continued in the decades since. After its discovery in the 1880s, the site was developed as a show cave and largely emptied of sediment, at times with minimal archaeological supervision. The excavations uncovered intensively-processed human bones intermingled with abundant butchered large mammal remains and a diverse range of flint, bone, antler, and ivory artefacts.
Britain's Gough Cave where
Cheddar Man, Britain's oldest
skeleton, was found.

New radiocarbon techniques have revealed remains were deposited over a very short period of time, possibly during a series of seasonal occupations, about 14,700 years ago.

Dr Silvia Bello, from the Natural History Museum's Department of Earth Sciences, lead researcher of the work said, "The human remains have been the subject of several studies. In a previous analysis, we could determine that the cranial remains had been carefully modified to make skull-cups. During this research, however, we've identified a far greater degree of human modification than recorded in earlier. We've found undoubting evidence for defleshing, disarticulation, human chewing, crushing of spongy bone, and the cracking of bones to extract marrow."

The Stone Age
by Barry Klemm

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The presence of human tooth marks on many of the bones provides incontrovertible evidence for cannibalism, the team found. In a wider context, the treatment of the human corpses and the manufacture and use of skull-cups at Gough's Cave has parallels with other ancient sites in central and western Europe. But the new evidence from Gough's Cave suggests that cannibalism during the 'Magdalenian period' was part of a customary mortuary practice that combined intensive processing and consumption of the bodies with the ritual use of skull-cups.

Simon Parfitt, of University College London, said, "A recurring theme of this period is the remarkable rarity of burials and how commonly we find human remains mixed with occupation waste at many sites. Further analysis along the lines used to study Gough's Cave will help to establish whether the type of ritualistic cannibalism practiced there is a regional Creswellian* phenomenon, or a more widespread practice found throughout the Magdalenian world."
* The Creswellian is a British Upper Palaeolithic or old stone age culture named after a site at Creswell Crags in Derbyshire by Dorothy Garrod in 1926. It is also known as the British Late Magdalenian. The Creswellian is dated between 13,000–11,800 BCE and was followed by the most recent ice age, the Younger Dryas, when Britain was at times unoccupied by humans.
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Story Source:  Materials provided by Natural History Museum. Silvia M. Bello, Palmira Saladié, Isabel Cáceres, Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo, Simon A. Parfitt. Upper Palaeolithic ritualistic cannibalism at Gough's Cave (Somerset, UK): The human remains from head to toe. Journal of Human Evolution, 2015.
 
 
 
 
Human hunting weapons may not have caused the demise of the Neanderthals
Date:
April 28, 2015
Source:
Elsevier
Summary:
The demise of Neanderthals may have nothing to do with innovative hunting weapons carried by humans from west Asia, according to a new study. The researchers say their findings mean that we may need to rethink the reasons humans survived Neanderthals - and that we may not have behaved as differently as we thought. The researchers looked at innovative stone weapons used by humans about 42,000-34,000 years ago. Traditionally, anthropologists believed that innovation in weapons enabled humans to spread out of Africa to Europe. However, the new study suggests that the innovation was not a driving force for humans to migrate into Europe as previously thought - they were no better equipped than the Neanderthals.
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FULL STORY
Technological innovation may not have led to the colonization of Europe by anatomically modern humans, suggests new study. (stock image)
Credit: © Kovalenko Inna / Fotolia
The demise of Neanderthals may have nothing to do with innovative hunting weapons carried by humans from west Asia, according to a new study published in the Journal of Human Evolution. The researchers, from Nagoya University and The University of Tokyo, Japan, say their findings mean that we may need to rethink the reasons humans survived Neanderthals -- and that we may not have behaved as differently as we thought.
The researchers looked at innovative stone weapons used by humans about 42,000-34,000 years ago. Traditionally, anthropologists believed that innovation in weapons enabled humans to spread out of Africa to Europe. However, the new study suggests that the innovation was not a driving force for humans to migrate into Europe as previously thought -- they were no better equipped than the Neanderthals.
"We're not so special, I don't think we survived Neanderthals simply because of technological competence," said Dr. Seiji Kadowaki, first author of the study from Nagoya University, Japan. "Our work is related to the processes behind the global spread of modern humans, and specifically the cultural impact of the modern humans who migrated to Europe."
Anatomically modern humans expanded the geographic area they inhabited out of Africa during a period of time 55,000-40,000 years ago -- this event made a huge impact on the biological origin of people living today. There are other theories for the geographical spread of anatomically modern humans, but this is generally accepted as a major event in human history.
Previous models assumed that anatomically modern humans -- our direct ancestors -- were special in the way they behaved and thought. These models considered technological and cultural innovation as the reason humans survived and Neanderthals did not.
There has always been a big question around the demise of the Neanderthals -- why did they disappear when humans survived? We have a similar anatomy, so researchers traditionally thought there must have been differences in the way Neanderthals and humans behaved. The new study suggests that humans moved from west Asia to Europe without a big change in their behavior.
The researchers studied stone tools that were used by people in the Early Ahmarian culture and the Protoaurignacian culture, living in south and west Europe and west Asia around 40,000 years ago. They used small stone points as tips for hunting weapons like throwing spears. Researchers previously considered these to be a significant innovation -- one that helped the humans migrate from west Asia to Europe, where Neanderthals were living.
However, the new research reveals a timeline that doesn't support this theory. If the innovation had led to the migration, evidence would show the stone points moving in the same direction as the humans. But at closer inspection, the researchers showed the possibility that the stone points appeared in Europe 3,000 years earlier than in the Levant, a historical area in west Asia. Innovation in hunting weapons can be necessary, but it's not always associated with migration -- populations can spread without technological innovations.
"We looked at the basic timeline revealed by similar stone points, and it shows that humans were using them in Europe before they appeared in the Levant -- the opposite of what we'd expect if the innovation had led to the humans' migration from Africa to Europe," said Dr. Kadowaki.
"Our new findings mean that the research community now needs to reconsider the assumption that our ancestors moved to Europe and succeeded where Neanderthals failed because of cultural and technological innovations brought from Africa or west Asia."
By re-examining the evidence, the researchers showed that the comparable stone weapons appeared in Europe around 42,000 years ago, and in the Levant 39,000 years ago. They believe the timings imply several new scenarios about the migration of modern humans into Europe. For example, they are likely to have migrated to Europe much earlier, and developed the tools there.
"We're very excited about our new model. We think the causes of human evolution are more complicated than just being about technology. Now that we've re-examined the traditional model about the northern migration route to Europe, we are planning to re-evaluate the model on the southern migration route -- from East Africa to South Asia" said Dr. Kadowaki.
Story Source:
The above story is based on materials provided by Elsevier. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
Journal Reference:
 
Seiji Kadowaki, Takayuki Omori, Yoshihiro Nishiaki. Variability in Early Ahmarian lithic technology and its implications for the model of a Levantine origin of the Protoaurignacian. Journal of Human Evolution, 2015

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