Could our Ancestors have been Cannibals?

Scientists at Oxford University have published a paper on a human arm bone found in a Devon cave that may indicate that our ancestors were cannibals.  The scientists believe the marks on the 9,000-year-old human bone are evidence that flesh was removed from it or that the body was cut up shortly after death.  The bone from Kents Cavern, near Torquay in Devon was spotted amongst a collection of animal bones from the site by Torquay museum curator Barry Chandler.

A closer examination of the bone revealed that it had several cut marks in the bone, evidently these had to have been made by a human using a stone tool of some sort.  The study showed that the bone had also been fractured at or around the time of death.

Other evidence of cannibalistic practices has been found at a number of sites in England, evidence of possible cannibalism has been found at the Cheddar Gorge caves in Somerset and at Eton in Berkshire, human bones were found split open, perhaps to get at the nutritious marrow inside.

Early Britons

The arrow in the diagrams showing the bone is pointing towards a cluster of three, fine vertical marks scored into the bone, other marks can be seen to the left of this group.

Dr Rick Schulting, of the School of Archaeology at Oxford University, sated:

“There are cut marks, and it seems the bone has been intentionally split.  These two together can raise the possibility of cannibalism”.

However, Dr Schulting and his colleagues were quick to point out that cannibalism was just one possible explanation, the markings could be signs of a complex ritual burial.  Perhaps by scoring the bones our ancestors thought that the spirit of the dead person would be more quickly released so that they could join other spirits of the departed.

The bone from Kents Cavern was first discovered by archaeologist and geologist William Pengelly more than 100 years ago.  It had been stored in a collection of miscellaneous animal bones that had been collected from the cave.

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