Chewed-On Remains Reveal Cannibalism Among Ancient Brits

Apologies in advance if you're eating right now.

Archaeologists have found evidence of human cannibalism in many ancient cultures around the world. And now researchers from University College London have confirmed that ancient Britons are on that list of human flesh-eaters.

(Story continues below photo).
Human skull-cup uncovered in Gough's Cave. (© The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London.)

The researchers used new radiocarbon techniques to analyze human remains found at Gough’s Cave, an archaeological site in Cheddar Gorge in southwestern England. The remains date back 14,700 years to the Ice Age. They were unearthed between 1950 and 1989.

"The human remains have been the subject of several studies," Dr. Silvia Bello, a post-doctoral researcher at the museum's department of earth sciences and the lead researcher, said in a written statement. "During this research, however, we’ve identified a far greater degree of human modification than recorded in earlier."

And yes, human modification is a nice little euphemism for cannibalism. But Bello isn't above giving the gruesome details:

"We’ve found undoubting evidence for defleshing, disarticulation, human chewing, crushing of spongy bone, and the cracking of bones to extract marrow,” Bello added in the statement. Just check out the photo below to see examples of what she's talking about.

early humans cannibals
Human chewing damage on a rib bone, showing breaks made by saw-teeth (white arrows), dug out furrows (B), and slicing cut marks (C). Scale bar=250 μm.

Previous research conducted by Bello's team showed that the ancient Britons fashioned human cranial bones into drinking containers. The vessels are called "skull-cups" -- and their presence at the site, along with the new findings, suggests that the ancient cannibalism was ritualistic, according to the scientists. In other words, the ancient Brits didn't chow down on each other because they needed the calories.

The findings were published online April 15 in the Journal of Human Evolution.