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For early humans, cannibalism more than just a meal


When early humans, including our species, ate their own kind it was more likely for ritual purposes than for a nourishing meal, according to an unusual study released Thursday.

For early humans, cannibalism more than just a meal
Several clues help archaeologists identify cannibalism from the study of bones, such as the absence 
of the cranial base (to extract the brain) [Credit: Achim Scheidemann/DPA/AFP]
Carving up the human body to calculate the caloric value of each part, the study argues that prehistoric cannibalism -- while less rare than widely assumed -- was a dangerous undertaking offering relatively meagre nutritional rewards.

Kilo for kilo, a wild horse, bear or boar had more than three times the calories in fat and protein than our lean-and-mean human ancestors, who were mostly skin, muscle and bone, according to the research, published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Moreover, human prey -- as wily as the hunter -- would surely put up a good fight before being sliced up into filets.

"I did the study because I wanted to know how nutritional we are compared to these other animals," explained James Cole, a senior lecturer in archaeology at the University of Brighton in England.

For early humans, cannibalism more than just a meal
Humans are much less nutritional than a boar or a pig [Credit: AFP]
"That might tell us whether we, and other human species, were doing it for the calories, or if there is some other explanation," he told AFP.

The findings help flesh out the idea that cannibalism among homo sapiens -- as well as Neanderthals, homo erectus and other hominins -- was suffused with cultural meaning.

Recent scholarship suggests our ancestors, including Neanderthals, had rich cultures, evidenced by artifacts, jewellery and perhaps language.

"It seems unreasonable to think that early humans wouldn't have had as complex an attitude to cannibalism as we modern humans," Cole said.

"They may have had as many reasons to consume each other as we do."

Author: Marlowe Hood | Source: AFP [April 06, 2017]
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