Was Europe Occupied by Cannibals 7,000 Years Ago?

By Brett Israel | December 7, 2009 3:04 pm

burial-site-webHuman remains found at a 7,000-year-old burial site in southwest Germany have markings similar to those found on animals that have been spit-roasted. According to lead researcher Bruno Boulestin, these markings are signs of cannibalism.

The team also found cuts suggestive of meat being scraped from the bones, and bones with the ends broken, as if to facilitate scraping out the marrow. Dr Boulestin said the cuts and markings on the bones provided evidence the bodies of the more than 500 victims, including children and fetuses, were intentionally mutilated, and the victims were butchered and eaten in the same way as animals [Physorg.com]. However, other scientists say the findings, which are published in the journal Antiquity, could have another, less gruesome, explanation.

The markings are also consistent with a reburial ritual in which flesh is scraped from the bone, according to researchers Miriam Haidle and Jorg Orschiedt. But Boulestin says he originally thought the same thing, until a closer examination of over 2oo remains from at least 10 different people revealed chewing and scraping more akin to cannibalism.

Damage typical of animal butchery appears on the bones, including that produced by a technique to separate the ribs from the spine, [Boulestin and his colleagues] say. Heads were skinned and muscles removed from the brain case in order to remove the skullcap. Incisions and scrapes on jaws indicate that tongues were cut out. Scrape marks inside the broken ends of limb bones indicate that marrow was removed. People most likely made the chewing marks found near intentionally broken ends of hand and arm bones, Boulestin says [Science News]. However, the dissenting researchers say the removal of lower jaws and skull bases is also consistent with reburial rituals, and that proving cannibalism 7,000 years after the fact is nearly impossible.

Related Content:
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Discoblog: For Early Europeans, Cannibalism Was One Perk of Victory

Image: Boulestin/Antiquity

  • kook

    Proving anything 7,000 years ago is difficult. That’s why scientists use their best guess. Nobody wants to be descendant of cannibals, even if the science points to that direction.

  • Mel

    They were some “fine young cannibals”…

  • Poo

    I do not understand why you do not want to admit that we all are the descendants of cannibals. Get real. Why do you think our ancesters would waste human flesh?? Now we are living in the society full of food made out of non-human origin. But years ago, the food supply is so unstable, it would be more natural to include human as a source of diet. Now for tens of decades (could be longer), we’ve been taught not to hurm, murder or eat other human, we tend to forget who we really are. Far removed from the reality we had in the past.

  • fatkid

    Got Marrow?

  • Joe

    What? Are we not eating people anymore? Must have missed the memmo. There goes the neighborhood.

  • goulet

    what’s wrong with cannibals?

  • Brian Too

    I just love these things! They have a soft chewy exterior and a hard, crunchy inside! But you if you eat the top bit it all reverses!!

  • Danlantic

    Montague Summers in “The Vampire: His Kith and Kin” told the history of a family in the Middle Ages that turned to robbery and cannibalism because of a famine. They made a hideout in a cave and were highway robbers for several generations. Tho no longer driven by famine, cannibalism had been learned and became the family culture. Finally the king (IIRC it was in Franc) set an expedition to hunt them to their hideout and wipe them out.

    A cannibal tribe/family could have existed 7000 years ago for a short while until an alliance hunted them down. That neither of these stories became a well known legend because who wants to, yuck, think about it?

  • Nacireman

    What a find! Several thousand year old Germans.Must have been the Aryans that were so sought after in WWII. Now to determine if they were the 500 that came to dinner..

  • Amanda

    Sounds like someone wants more money for research. The more headline grabbing your claims the more money you are likely to get.
    It’s a shame that archaeologists along with the rest of the scientific community have to sensationalise everything to get money.

  • RMor

    Waste not, want not I say. We have our stories of modern day cannibalism – from the Donner Party to the survivors of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 (The 1972 Andes plane crash survivors ate the flesh of their dead companions).

    There are many, many instances of Cannibalism throughout history, especially involving stranded explorers and victims of famine. Other proven cases involve cannibalism as a “cultural norm” or tribal custom. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cannibalism

    There is nothing at all surprising about these findings, if they indeed prove to be true.

  • http://- Phil Doran

    Cannibalism was widespread in the Pacific, including New Zealand.

  • kevin

    Lots of cannibalism in North Korea, and I don’t mean a long time ago.

  • Gold

    No wonder there’s CJD among Europeans as Kuru is among the Fore in New Guinea.
    Cannibalism was once a global phenomenon and with it came more diseases.

  • platynota

    “…more than 500 victims” I’m no expert in cannibals, nor an anthropologist, but 500 PEOPLE being treated as described is a large number. However, without assuming these bodies were buried at the same time, how much time elapsed between the deaths and what were the local environmental conditions? Similar evidence to be found nearby? More evidence is needed because assumptions just suck. Burial ritual or cannibalism, it’s all history to be repeated.

  • Stevie

    Eating Bone marrow Just sucks ! …

  • krissy

    Its gratifying to see it in ancient Europe, and not only among the “savages” of the Amazon and New Guinea. There have always been cultures that eat their enemies. Some cultures will leave the vanquished dead rotting in a crumpled heap, while others choose to eat them. It is barbaric especially if the dead were hunted but is the senseless killing for resources that our species normally engages in really any better?


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