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Evidence of cannibalism found in Mesolithic Spain


Over two dozen human bones discovered in a Spanish cave have revealed the cannibalistic practices of the Mesolithic people, with evidence suggesting the dead were cooked and eaten.

Evidence of cannibalism found in Mesolithic Spain
Human rib showing signs of gnawing [Credit: Journal of Anthropological Archaeology]
The remains date back to at least two different periods between 10,000 and 9,000 years ago, and are covered in marks from stone tools, fire, and human teeth.

Archaeologists also discovered animal remains with similar markings at the site – but, whether these ancient people butchered and consumed their own as a part of ritual funerary behaviours or as a result of food scarcity remains a mystery.

Evidence of cannibalism found in Mesolithic Spain
This is a frontoparietal fragment of a human cranium (illustration shows where it came from). 
It's covered with intense and flat chop marks, possibly from skinning and defleshing 
[Credit: Journal of Anthropological Archaeology]
Evidence of cannibalism found in Mesolithic Spain
This distal humerus shows distinct disarticulation cut marks where 
stone tools were used to separate this bone at the joint 
[Credit: Journal of Anthropological Archaeology]
In a new study published to the journal of Anthropological Archaeology, researchers describe the bizarre markings found on 30 different human bones in the ancient Santa Maira caves in Spain.

Within the batch, three cranial remains were identified, which were traced to a ‘robust’ adult, a more slender adult, and an infant.

Evidence of cannibalism found in Mesolithic Spain
A femur shaft with a clear bite mark [Credit: Journal of Anthropological Archaeology]
Evidence of cannibalism found in Mesolithic Spain
A femur shaft fragment shows incisions (a), a small piece of a sharp stone still buried in the 
shaft in an impact point (b), and a small impact point (c). These impacts were 
post-mortem, likely to break open the bone to get at marrow 
[Credit: Journal of Anthropological Archaeology]
On both human and animal remains, the team found lithic marks – indicating the processes of disarticulation and defleshing – tooth marks, percussion, and fire marks.

Human teeth are known to leave behind double arch punctures, isolated triangular pits, and shallow linear marks that distinguish them from other predators.

Evidence of cannibalism found in Mesolithic Spain
Further evidence of human tooth marks on this tibial shaft fragment. We can see the 
characteristic crescent pit associated with shallow and wide scoring 
[Credit: Journal of Anthropological Archaeology]
Evidence of cannibalism found in Mesolithic Spain
Another bone-shaft fragment shows several marks made by humans: stone cut-marks (a), 
an intense flat scrape probably caused by human tooth associated with two pits of uncertain origin (b), 
and light scores that could be due to human tooth action, but its origin is not known for certain (c) 
[Credit: Journal of Anthropological Archaeology]
And, those identified on the human remains were found to line up with the markings seen on common prey of the Mesolithic hunters, including ibex, red deer, wild boar, fox, and rabbit.

Evidence of cannibalism found in Mesolithic Spain
Here is a triangular pit, characteristic of a human tooth  
[Credit: Journal of Anthropological Archaeology]
Evidence of cannibalism found in Mesolithic Spain
This "sub-rectangular pit" is also strongly associated with human bites 
[Credit: Journal of Anthropological Archaeology]
To be sure that they’d found evidence of ‘anthropophagic behaviour,’ the researchers analyzed the remains based on a previously determined set of characteristics to diagnose cannibalism.

Evidence of cannibalism found in Mesolithic Spain
Another femur shaft fragment reveals the marks of defleshing: two crossed stone tool incisions (a); crescent pit 
with flat scores suggesting tooth marks (b1), isolated crescent pit bite mark (b2); sub-rectangular pit 
overlapping shallow wide scores (b3); and isolated wide linear marks and shallow scores (b4) 
[Credit: Journal of Anthropological Archaeology]
Evidence of cannibalism found in Mesolithic Spain
Femur shaft fragment shows incisions from stone tools and fire marks. The fire marks
 indicate that the bone was heated before breakage, likely to get at marrow 
[Credit: Journal of Anthropological Archaeology]
This Iliac fragment shows the wide flat and slight scores associated with tooth scraping 
[Credit: Journal of Anthropological Archaeology]
This includes direct proof – meaning the discovery of human bones within human coprolites (fossilized feces) – and indirect proof, typically being evidence of cooking, along with a number of other criteria.

With the exception of fossilized human waste, the remains met all of the requirements.

Evidence of cannibalism found in Mesolithic Spain
More defleshing marks, this time on ribs. You can see an incision (a), notches (b), and scores (c) 
[Credit: Journal of Anthropological Archaeology]
Evidence of cannibalism found in Mesolithic Spain
This tibia or femur fragment shows signs of burning in the dark areas on the outside 
of the bone. Closer inspection reveals scoring from human teeth 
[Credit: Journal of Anthropological Archaeology]
While the practice could be linked to ritualistic behaviour, the researchers note that the discovery lines up with a cultural change in the region, during the Epipalaeolithic-Mesolithic transition.

Based on this, they say they ‘cannot entirely rule out the possibility that these practices may be the result of periodic food stress suffered by human populations.’

Evidence of cannibalism found in Mesolithic Spain
Both ends of this right rib have been chewed. You can see the dorsal (A) and caudal (B) edges. Detail of crushed 
and frayed edges of both ends (A1, A2, B1, B2). Detail of small notch (a) and puncture (b) 
[Credit: Journal of Anthropological Archaeology]
Evidence of cannibalism found in Mesolithic Spain
Shaft fragment shows almost parallel incisions from a sharp stone 
[Credit: Journal of Anthropological Archaeology]
According to the study, cannibalism was rare in the Mesolithic in this context, as no other evidence of the practice has been discovered on remains in the western Mediterranean.

‘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,’ the authors wrote.

Evidence of cannibalism found in Mesolithic Spain
Here's a tibial shaft fragment with three direct impacts, probably caused by a hammer. Under a microscope, you can 
see two impacts with light and wide scores associated. This was likely an effort to shatter the bone for marrow 
[Credit: Journal of Anthropological Archaeology]
Evidence of cannibalism found in Mesolithic Spain
Location of the archaeological site (A), Coves de Santa Maira, where the cannibalised bones were found. (B) shows
 the site plan and (C) shows the well-dated stratigraphy (the human bones come from the Mesolithic layer) 
[Credit: Journal of Anthropological Archaeology]
‘However, the small quantity of human bones, their radiocarbon results and taphonomic history seem to suggest that anthropophagy in Santa Maira was an exceptional fact.’

Given the time period, they say the increase of social complexity and burial rituals may have played a role in the unusual behaviour.

Author: Cheyenne MacDonald | Source: Daily Mail Online [March 23, 2017]
TANN

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