When the World Was Young, and Human Cannibalism Wasn't Such a Big Deal

By Joseph Calamia | September 1, 2010 1:26 pm

hotdogNo dessert, caveman child, until you finish eating your human. Digging around in a Spanish cave called Gran Dolina, archaeologists have found butchered humans’ fossilized bones. Researchers say the bones show that cave dwellers skinned, decapitated, and enjoyed other early humans, before throwing their remains into a heap with animals bones from other meals.

The study, which appeared this month in Current Anthropology, says the 800,000-year-old Homo antecessor bones could indicate the most “ancient cultural cannibalism … known until now.” Adding to the nightmare: National Geographic reports that the hungry cavemen had a penchant for kids, since the 11 cannibalized humans uncovered were all youngsters. They speculate that the kiddos were easier to catch, and eating them was a good way to stop competitors from building their families.

Study coauthor José María Bermúdez de Castro, of the National Research Center on Human Evolution, told National Geographic that marks near the base of some skulls hint that the diners decapitated humans to get the brain goodness inside.

“Probably then they cut the skull for extracting the brain…. The brain is good for food.”

The researchers believe that eating other humans wasn’t a big deal back then, and probably wasn’t linked to religious rituals or marked by elaborate ceremonies. They draw that conclusion from the fact that butchered human bones were tossed in the scrap heap along with animal remains.

There is some debate as to how frequently human was on the menu, but these researchers note that the Sierra de Atapuerca region had a great climate and that cannibalism didn’t likely result from a lack of alternatives. I guess our ancestors were just that tasty.

Related content:
Discoblog: For Early Europeans, Cannibalism Was One Perk of Victory
Discoblog: Mad Cow Fears Keep Euro Sperm Out of U.S.
Discoblog: To Fight Cancer, Ovarian Cells Eat Themselves
80beats: New Guinean Cannibals Evolved Resistance To Mad Cow-Like Disease

Image: flickr / joanna8555

  • http://Untitledvanityproject.blogspot.com Rhacodactylus

    Lol, damn civilization and it’s rules, keep me from the tasty tasty human meat I crave =)

  • Elizabeth Gally

    thats nasty. those poor children!

  • Kelsey

    nice picture

  • Urbisoler

    Forget ancient history, what is the extent of cannabalism TODAY? The U.N. reports that 16,000 children die each year for lack of food. Lack of food for whom? Their parents? Their neighbors? Their enemies? Are these children being eaten? If not, why not? Hunger is an overwhelming persuasive.

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Discoblog

Quirky, funny, and surprising science news from the edge of the known universe.
ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »