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Ice Age Era Human Skull Cups Discovered In UK

February 17, 2011

Researchers from the British Natural History Museum (NHM) have discovered three human skulls that they say were used as cups by humans who lived nearly 15,000 years ago.

The artifacts, which were found at a location in Somerset known as Gough’s Cave, are the first evidence that ice age era UK residents had used human skulls to drink from, the NMH said in a Wednesday press release.

The cups were fashioned from 14,700 year old human skulls, two of which were from adults and the third of which belonged to a child. They were early Homo sapiens–those “who in Europe were known as Cro-Magnons,” according to Museum officials.

The findings are the subject of a paper published Wednesday in the journal PLoS One, and the cups themselves will be on display in the London-based museum for three months starting on March 1.

“We suspected that these early humans were highly skilled at manipulating human bodies once they died, and our research reveals just what great anatomists they were,” Paleoanthropologist Dr. Silvia Bello, the lead author of the study, said in a statement. “The cut-marks and dents show how the heads were scrupulously cleaned of any soft tissues shortly after death.”

“The skulls were then modified by removing the bones of the face and the base of the skull,” Bello added. “Finally, these cranial vaults were meticulously shaped into cups by retouching the broken edges, possibly to make them more regular. All in all it was a very painstaking process given the tools available.”

According to the Associated Press (AP), in the PLoS One paper, Bello observes that the cups were most likely created for use in a ritual of some type, and that it was unlikely that they were fashioned out of necessity.

Furthermore, while the AP says that the NHM researchers discovered some evidence that some of the skulls’ flesh and bone marrow was consumed, cannibalism “was unlikely to have been the main purpose of the modifications.”

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