Where The Bones Are: The Evidence Of Early Cannibals In Western Europe
December 8 SPIEGEL ONLINE has two articles posted on skulls. The former covers a stone age mystery in a town called Herxheim in Germany. We read a graphic description of cannibalism during the demise of a small settlement 7 millennia ago. Yet nearby Speyer celebrates this year its 2,000-year anniversary with a postage stamp. There were surely mass migrations long before the arrival of the Romans in the area 2,000 years ago as the neolithic map (below) marks them as well as two-way trips between Africa and Sicily not shown on the map. Many bones and skulls were located in two shallow ditches that surround ten buildings. Archaeologists excavated hundreds of bodies and reported their work in Antiquity [Mass cannibalism in the Linear Pottery Culture at Herxheim (Palatinate, Germany)]. The discussions there and in the press center around ritualistic cannibalism that persisted till the end of the community. Even people from other places such as France were among the dead. All the bones were found damaged in the same fashion.
Cannibalism in western Europe is not a new subject. Science has published from time to time that Neanderthals were cannibals. Based on bone evidence, Neanderthals expertly butchered game and their own kind! A 100,000-year-old sample was from the French cave of Moula-Guercy. Whispers of "hints of cannibalism" have gotten louder in recent years as evidence piles up.
Is there more evidence of cannibalism in western Europe? Yes, there is in Britain according to the cut marks on a bone fragment from a cave in Devon, Kent. The so-called Kent's Cavern is the second place with such evidence on human remains after Gough’s Cave. The bone in the photo was radiocarbon dated by a team from the University of Oxford’s School of Archaeology. Because the bone is just under 9,000 years old it predates the bones of Herxheim by two millennia. In addition to being well-preserved, a clear sign of cannibalism is evident, a fracture most probably created when the bone was fresh.
Evidence of cut marks on a bone fragment from Kent's Cavern. (Photo Credit: Oxford University)
Where the bones are found generates a new care in cannibalism language. Now that the western European faces his own cannibal past, the difficulties in proof are repeated. The certainty we noticed before about other lands such as the Americas is missing. Not only that the bone had been kept among animal remains in storerooms at Torquay Museum. Early archaeologist (and geologist) William Pengelly had discovered the bone in 1866 in the cave. More detailed analysis of the cave contents appears to be suffering from poor record keeping as well. This research is part of a larger examination of prehistoric violence in a European context, funded by the Leverhulme Trust.
The latter of the two articles in SPIEGEL ONLINE concerns a modern skull. The Russians seem to insist it is the skull of Hitler despite the DNA results pointing to a female subject. The article ends with: "However, Russian officials don't all agree on whether the bones are really Hitler's. After the US research was revealed in October, the vice president of the Russian state archive, Vladimir Kozlov, said: No one claimed that was Hitler's skull."