Archaeologists working at a Mesolithic excavation site in a cave in southern Spain have reported a grisly find: human bones that show clear signs of butchering and consumption. Yep: good ol’ fashioned human cannibalism. At least 30 bones have been found in the cave that show signs of sawing or hammering with stone tools, scorching (cooking), and teeth marks from humans and possibly animals. Researchers so far believe the remains belong to at least one child and two adults who lived around 10,000 years ago.

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Human rib bones with signs of cooking and chewing.

Lead author Juan Morales Pérez of the University of Valencia in Spain stated in a press release that based on archaeological knowledge of Mesolithic people in the area, there is no nutritional reason why cannibalism might have been practiced:

We know that hunters and pickers of the Mesolithic (10500-7000 years) jointly exploited different resources and ecosystems, from the coast to mountains. Consequently, they were groups who knew and consumed a great variety of resources, without a nutritional lack that enables an explanation of this behaviour.

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Many of the bone fragments show evidence of stone tool use.

In other words, this was fun eating, not hunger eating. What, you don’t eat for fun sometimes? Doesn't everyone have a vomitorium in their house? Anyway, in their published analysis in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, the researchers write that this cannibalism was likely part of some sort of vengeance ceremony or ritualistic violence intended to weaken competing groups:

Human consumption as a result of nutritional stress requirements seems unlikely due to the broad spectrum of resources consumed by Mesolithic populations in the region. However, [...] an increase in social complexity and burial rituals could mean that the human remains from Santa Maira result from institutionalized behaviour, or at least that their appearance within this context could be related to general changes in cultural and economic traditions as well as the increase in territorial behaviour of human groups.

Creepy. Ritualistic Stone Age cave dwellers eating members of opposing groups in order to absorb their strength or something. Sounds like a great B-movie plot. By the way, if you haven’t seen Bone Tomahawk, go see Bone Tomahawk. Immediately.

Meat is meat I suppose.

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician living in the ancient Appalachian mountains.

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