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10 July 2011
Earliest Europeans were cannibals and wore mammoth jewellery

After studying human remains and artefacts discovered at a shelter-cave site called Buran-Kaya III in Ukraine, scientists say the earliest known modern humans from southeast Europe wore shell and mammoth jewellery, and also likely practiced cannibalism.
     The remains date to 32,000 years ago, and represent the oldest direct evidence for anatomically modern humans in a well-documented context. The human remains are also the oldest known for our species in Europe to show post-mortem cut marks.
     Co-author Stephane Pean, paleo-zoologist and archaeologist at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, states that "This treatment was not for nutritional purposes... It is not a dietary cannibalism." He and his colleagues believe that "The observed treatment of the human body, together with the presence of body ornaments, indicates rather a mortuary ritual: either a ritual cannibalism or a specific mortuary practice for secondary disposal."
     Artefacts excavated at the site include five mammoth beads, one engraved plate made out of mammoth ivory and 35 perforated shells. The remains of pointed bone tools and stone projectiles indicate these early Europeans were active hunters with busy associated tool and weapon-making industries.
     Marcel Otte, a professor of prehistory at the University of Liege (Belgium), has also excavated at Buran-Kaya III, and his team found evidence for a 30,000-year-old culture at the same site, indicating the region was continuously inhabited for thousands of years after the first modern humans arrived.
     Pean and his team are currently involved in another dig at the same site.

Edited from Discovery News (6 July 2011)

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