Washington DC: England was once populated by cannibals who used to feats on each other before carving patters on the bones, a new study suggests. Human bones discovered in Somerset, which is now a beauty spot for tourists, have contributed to the notion.
The study by Silvia Bello from The Natural History Museum, UK and colleagues suggested that human bones may have been engraved as part of a cannibalistic ritual during the Paleolithic period.
According to researchers, Cheddar Gorge in Somerset, was populated by cannibals 14,700 years ago, who decapitated their dead, filleted the flesh from their bodies and made drinking cups from their skulls.
Human bones bearing cuts and damage are frequently found at Magdalenian (approximately 12 to 17,000 years BP) European sites and one of the most extensive assemblages can be found at Gough's Cave in Somerset, UK.
Previous analysis of the human bones from the site found evidence of human cannibalism, but paleontologists debate about whether some of the marks found on the bones were intentionally engraved or simply the result of butchery.
The zigzag markings carved into the bones could be a savage tribal emblem left by early humans who killed their victims and ate them up or they may have been a funeral rite as a tribute to the dead, who died naturally but were eaten by their companions when food was scarce.
The authors of the present study examined a right human radius excavated in 1987 at Gough's Cave. The bone had been modified by cut marks, percussion damage and human tooth marks, as well as unusual zig-zagging cuts on one side.
The researchers used macro- and micro-morphometric analysis of the marks and compared them to other artefacts from the same period.
The researchers' analysis revealed that the marks were engraved intentionally, which suggests that these engravings were a purposeful component of a multi-stage cannibalistic ritual. While the researchers can only speculate as to the symbolic significance of the engravings, they suggest that they represent an early and unique example of cannibalistic funerary behavior that has not been previously recognized in the Paleolithic period.
Bello said, "The sequence of modifications performed on this bone suggests that the engraving was a purposeful component of the cannibalistic practice, rich in symbolic connotations. Although in previous analyses we have been able to suggest that cannibalism at Gough's Cave was practiced as a symbolic ritual, this study provides the strongest evidence for this yet."
The study is published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE....