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23 August 2010
Ancestral human cannibals in Spain

Evidence from a cave site in the Atapuerca Mountains (Spain) suggests that early human ancestors may have been regular cannibals who viewed their fellows as a viable dietary option.
     A team led by Eudald Carbonell of the University of Rovira and Vergili in Spain analysed a sample of some 1,039 bones which included the butchered remains of mammoth, buffalo, cat and other species. The sample, deposited in the cave over 800,000 years ago, also contained 159 bones belonging to 11 individual Homo antecessors, thought to be a species ancestral to both modern humans and Neanderthals, and with a brain size around two-thirds that of a modern human. The bones, which include skulls, have cut marks indicative of chopping, slicing and scraping, suggesting skinning and defleshing activities paralleled in Neolithic and Native American examples of cannibalistic practices.
     The butchered Homo antecessor bones were mixed with the animal bones suggesting that cannibalism was not solely carried out during famine and that it had no symbolic value, but rather was a regular part of Homo antecessor's survival strategy. The age of the find makes it the earliest known example of 'cultural cannibalism'. Carbonell's team's report was recently published in Current Anthropology.

Source: USA Today (11 August 2010)

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