December 7, 2009
Evidence Of Mass Cannibalism At Ancient Site
Archaeologists have unearthed what appears to be evidence of mass cannibalism at a 7,000-year-old site in southwest Germany.
In the journal Antiquity, the authors say their discoveries provide rare evidence that cannibalism existed during Europe's early Neolithic period.
The researchers uncovered up to 500 seemingly cannibalized human remains near the village of Herxheim.
They said the "intentionally mutilated" remains included children and even unborn babies.
Archaeologists first excavated the German site in 1996 and then investigated more between 2005 and 2008.
Leader of the excavation team Dr. Bruno Boulestin of University of Bordeaux in France, told BBC News that he and his colleagues believed they had found evidence that the human bones were purposefully cut and broken, indicating they had been eaten.
"We see patterns on the bones of animals indicating that they have been spit-roasted," he said. "We have seen some of these same patterns on the human bones [at this site]."
However, Dr. Boulestin emphasized the difficulty in proving that the bones have been deliberately cooked.
Not all scientists are on board with the cannibalism theory. Some suggest that the removal of flesh could have merely been part of a burial ritual.
Dr. Boulestin, on the other hand, insists that the remains were "intentionally mutilated", with signs that many of them had actually been chewed.
The early Neolithic era is often refers to the period of time when human technology and farming first spread in central Europe. The researchers believe that this occurrence of cannibalism in Europe was likely exceptional, and could have been triggered by long periods of famine.
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