Evidence unearthed of possible mass cannibalism in Neolithic Europe

December 7, 2009 by Lin Edwards, Phys.org weblog
Image © 2009 Antiquity Publications.

(PhysOrg.com) -- Archaeologists studying a 7,000-year-old site in what is now south-west Germany have found evidence suggesting that more than 500 people may have been the victims of cannibalism.

Evidence of cannibalism in Neolithic is rare, but hundreds of remains excavated at a site near the village of Herxheim have markings suggestive of cannibalism. One of the authors of the research paper, Dr Bruno Boulestin of the University of Bordeaux in France, said his team had found bones with markings similar to those found on the remains of animals that have been spit roasted. They also found cuts suggestive of meat being scraped from the bones, and bones with the ends broken, as if to facilitate scraping out the marrow.

Dr Boulestin said the cuts and markings on the bones provided evidence the bodies of the more than 500 victims, including children and fetuses, were intentionally mutilated, and the victims were butchered and eaten in the same way as animals.

The archaeological site is one of the Linear Pottery Culture, and was first excavated from 1996-99 and again in 2005 and 2008. So far the remains of about 500 humans and a large number of dogs have been found buried in oval pits. The pits also contained pottery, which suggests the remains were accumulated over only a few decades. The remains date from the early Neolithic period, when farming had spread into Europe.

Two German scientists, Miriam Haidle of Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum in Frankfurt, and J?rg Orschiedt of the University of Leipzig, who have previously studied bones found at the site dismiss Dr Boulestin's theory of cannibalism and suggest the removal of flesh was more likely to have been part of a reburial ritual.

Boulestin's team originally also thought the find was a reburial site, but they became convinced the people had been cannibalized after a detailed examination of 217 samples of bone from at least 10 people, including two unborn children, revealed chewing and scraping marks that were more consistent with cannibalism.

According to Haidle and Orschiedt bones of people who had been ritually reburied would have had similar markings, and cannibalism would be almost impossible to prove.

Herxheim and other settlements were abandoned around the time of the deaths of the people, about 7,000 years ago, which may indicate there was a social crisis of some kind at the time. Excavations are continuing, and Dr Boulestin and his team think the site may contain the remains of many more people.

The paper is published in the December edition of the journal Antiquity.

More information: Mass in the Linear Pottery Culture at Herxheim (Palatinate, Germany), Volume: 83 Number: 322 Page: 968-982, http://antiquity.ac.uk/ant/083/ant0830968.htm

© 2009 PhysOrg.com

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not rated yet Dec 07, 2009
Cannibalism is present in most meat-eating species. The more social the species, the less common the practice. Still, it is easy to see that food shortages could lead to cannibalism. Ritual cannibalism is a not-uncommon animist practice that has different roots. We should not be surprised that our ancestors embraced the practice, since it is still present in some of today's cultures. Don't forget the symbolism of the wafer and the wine, and don't doubt the possibilities inherent in the tale of "Soylent Green."
5 / 5 (1) Dec 07, 2009
It's taboo. It's not commonly discussed. It is present in much mythology, ancient history and archaeological field work keeps bumping into plenty of evidence, not to mention contemporary criminal investigations. But, it is important for us to understand if our primal survival instincts have been understood well, by whom, when, where and how.

As strange as it sounds, cannibalism may be alive and well in each of us, given certain (we hope) extreme circumstances. The questions arrising from this article are the timing -fitting with the well documented flood mythology and the meteor impact crater in the North Sea from the same period, and the rise of 'civilisation' in Europe since. The children's stories from Gothic Europe carry many themes into contempory horror movies, and many include killing humans for consumption.

And then, as I have mentioned before, there is the evidence in Lisbon, Portugal, buried in a wall space for centuries, of the attrocities following the earthquake of 1755.
not rated yet Dec 07, 2009
We have survive many global climate changes in our past. Ice ages have come and gone, impacts may have turned the world upside down, blotted out the sky and left our not so not-so-distant ancestors facing terrible decisions, the major question is the distinction between people by their instincts to survive. Do you think you would become a hunter early in the disaster, or only consider it your darkest moments when you become so weak and emaciated that you had almost no other choice? Vampire or zombie? Do Werewolves 'grow hair' under the full moon due to genetic abnormality, or more basically the necessity to disguise themselves better on well lit nights? Blame the dogs, convince everyone they are the nightime enemy. If one of the Werewolves is killed during a hunt, make sure you get the wolfskin off his back, leaving the enemy 'transformed' into a naked and innocent victim of lunacy. Both Vampires and Werewolves are known for their strength and agility, and intelligence.
not rated yet Dec 07, 2009
Sorry. Rambling a bit. Post flood, renaisance Europa appears to have developed rapidly, as if recovering rather than developing from nothing. Literature was scarce, but the stories told by generations seem to have been devised to educate the intelligent/fearless while providing rules that control all others to avoid their base survival instincts and provide a basis for society, civilisation and stability. Is this the difference? Basically Vampire or Zombie when the chips are down?

Rambling ... Racism; Classes and Castes; Sectarianism. When did we all get so spooked about members of our own species who 'appear' different? Languages; Cultures; Religions; Nations. The 'haves' and the 'have nots'. All of this originates in our shared past ... where we became afraid of ... us?

Dark Days, Dark Ages, Dark Souls with Dark Secrets. No wonder Europe moved en masse to the New World, to 'start again'.

Can we accept it? Grow above it? Learn from it? Avoid Repeating History?

Good luck Copenhage
not rated yet Dec 07, 2009
As chimps and gorillas are, DNA-wise, us, the bushmeat that indigenes in Africa love so much is essentially human. May Alferd Packer rest in peace.
1 / 5 (1) Dec 08, 2009
As chimps and gorillas are, DNA-wise, us, the bushmeat that indigenes in Africa love so much is essentially human.
It's not only the primates who share a lot of their DNA. You should become vegan.
not rated yet Dec 08, 2009
more beer, less brethern. That's my paleo celtic diet preference
not rated yet Dec 09, 2009
It's well known that the existence of neolitic people in nothern areas was not so easy. Maybe, they often suffered from deficite of eating. In present times, there are known cases when humans were eating flesh of dead fellows, for example, the survived humans were eating a flesh of unhappy companions killed by air disaster in Andes. I think that in neolitic times such cases were compelled. It's possible that the victims were died undesignedly. Certainly, it should been taken into account a general cultural level of the population of neolitic era.

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