For Early Europeans, Cannibalism Was One Perk of Victory

By Allison Bond | June 29, 2009 11:54 am

cannibal pumpkinWhat was eating the earliest Europeans? Their rivals, apparently. Human remains up to 800,000 years old have been found in an archaeological cave site in northern Spain. They reveal that early Europeans killed and ate their adversaries, and took a special liking to the flesh of children and adolescents.

The abundant food and water available in the area indicate that the cannibalistic practice was not one of necessity. AFP tells us:

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,” said [project co-director Jose Maria Bermudez de Castro]. 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”….

[Archaeologists] found water and food in abundance, could hunt wild boar, horses, [and] deer, “which means that they did not practice cannibalism through a lack of food. They killed their rivals and used the meat,” he 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” as victims “were children or adolescents.”

Lends a whole new meaning to “the sweet taste of victory.”

Related Content:
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Discoblog: Archaeological Surprise: Grave Site Full of Phallic Figurines

Image: flickr / stu_spivack

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  • Zirkman

    Human species is no older than 200,000 years and no humans left Africa before 80,000 yrs. 800,000 years? – give me a break from this nonsense.

  • Cosmic Stargoat

    So where was god during this feast? Busy?

  • Cosmic Stargoat

    Yeah, that must be a typo, but no excuse nonetheless.

  • Allison Bond

    Dear Zirkman and Cosmic Stargoat,

    Thanks for your comments.

    The statement that some of the remains are 800,000 years old is not, in fact, a typo. Indeed, there is plenty of scientific evidence that indicates humans date back farther than that.

    For example, researchers found that the first humans reached Europe more than a million years ago: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/03/080326-first-european.html.

  • http://chaosmotor.com Chaos Motor

    “Human species is no older than 200,000 years and no humans left Africa before 80,000 yrs. 800,000 years? – give me a break from this nonsense.”

    Please, read something newer than the 70′s, humans split from chimps more than 2 million years ago, everything from then until now is our ancestry, whatever shape they may have been in. Furthermore, pre-Clovis settlement theories in America are becoming more widely accepted, putting humans in America, much less Spain (just North of Africa, remember?) at more than 50,000 years ago.

  • DaveM

    They’re using “humans” in the sense of “hominds” not “modern humans”. While it’s true that modern humans (Homo sapiens) originated in Africa aabout 160,000-190,000 years ago and started radiating to the rest of the world less than 100,000 years ago, there were already other hominids in the rest of the world at the time.

    The earliest hominid species to leave Africa was Homo erectus, or Homo ergaster, who first left Africa about 1.8 million years ago. The transition from Homo erectus to Homo heidelbergensis (who was the last common ancestor of both modern man and Neanderthals) happened about 500,000 years ago in Europe, and probably 600,000 years ago in Africa (to Homo rhodesiensis, the African equivalent of Homo heidelbergensis).

    These fossils from Spain are about 800,000 years old. The precise species they belonged to is a matter of dispute. The commonly accepted model for human evolution would place them as some kind of Homo erectus, since the transition to Homo heidelbergensis didn’t happen until 600,000 years ago, that is, 200,000 years after these fossils.

    However, their somewhat modern features (more modern than Homo erectus) are the reason why some anthropologists place them in a different category – Homo antecessor, an intermediate form between Homo erectus and Homo heidelbergensis. These names are mostly just convenience; the species likely acquired more modern characteristics gradually, and when we look at snapshots in time such as fossils, we don’t see the full sequence of transition, just intermediary stages. Whether they can or should be given separate species designations is a matter of debate.

  • Roberta M. Soyars

    Children and adolescents were obviously easier to catch or bring down than deer, horses or rhinos. Rhinos of today can bite a full-grown man in half, so undoubtedly the Neanderthals did not have easy access to all that much game.

    Plenty of fruits and vegetables during the Ice Age? Doubtful. Wars against children and adolescents, the victors feasting upon the conquered? Well, maybe. Times have changed. In Texas, we’re not even allowed to hit them with a 2X4 anymore.

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