Times 2

Early Britons were cannibals

They drank out of cups made from human skulls, hoard of remains reveal
By Fiona Macrae

They were already branded cannibals. Now it appears that early Britons also enjoyed drinking out of cups made from their victims' heads. The world's oldest-known skull cups - containers meticulously fashioned from human skulls - were abandoned in a cave in Somerset's Cheddar Gorge some 14,700 years ago, it was revealed this week.

Fancy a drink? A skull discovered in Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, 20 years ago which was used by ancient Britons to drink from
Ancestors: The early Britons were known to be cannibals and use skulls as utensils
Find: The skulls were discovered 20 years ago in Cheddar Gorge, Somerset

The ghoulish utensils were unearthed more than 20 years ago but it is only now that advances in microscopy have allowed scientists to pinpoint exactly how they were made. And although no one can be sure what they were used for, it is likely they were used to drink water - or even blood.

The skull cups may have been fashioned from the heads of vanquished enemies and used as trophies, or they could have been made as part of rituals done to honour the dead and keep their spirits alive.

It is also possible that they were by-products of 'crisis cannibalism' - the resorting to human flesh when little or no other food was available, the journal PLoS ONE reports.

The three skull cups were among a collection of animal and human bones excavated from Gough's Cave in the 1980s and bear patterns of cut marks that pointed to cannibalism.

Painstaking research by experts from the Natural History Museum and University College London has now revealed the extent to which the early Britons butchered the human body.

Crucially the techniques used were the same as those used to obtain animal flesh - strengthening the case for cannibalism. To make the skull cups, the flesh and features were carefully stripped from the head, and the skulls fashioned into containers using flint 'razors' and cobble 'hammers'.

Researcher Silvia Bello said: '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.

'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. 'Finally, these cranial vaults were meticulously shaped into cups by retouching the broken edges. 'All in all, it was a very painstaking process, given the tools available.' Close examination also reveals that the jaw bones were crushed - likely to allow the bone marrow to be sucked out. Tongues and other facial parts may also have been eaten.

The skull cups - thought to have been made from the heads of two adults and a three-year-old child - may have been one of the earliest examples of disposable tableware. Researcher Professor Chris Stringer said: 'They don't seem to have been used for very long.

'In some more recent examples they have been kept for hundreds of years and have become polished and worn through wear. 'These seem to be relatively fresh and it looks as if their use was limited to a short time - days or weeks or months.'

A replica of one of the grisly cups will go on display at the Natural History Museum from next month.
These Cheddar Gorge settlers died out but relatives of the next wave of settlers, which arrived around 11,500 years ago, are alive and well in Britain today.

© Daily Mail, London

Top to the page  |  E-mail  |  views[1]
SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend
Other Times 2 Articles
People power explosion in Arab world
US vetoes UN resolution on Israeli settlements
No easy love for Philippine Presidents
Mind-moved bionic arm goes on display in US
Pakistan court reissues warrant on Musharraf
Harry: Make me best man or I'm not coming
Early Britons were cannibals
Is it a bird? Is it a plane?
Behind every successful man is a woman keeping out of the way
The largest solar flare in four years may damage electrical grids on Earth
Honest cabbie returns $100,000 of jewellery to passenger
A drug to make your hair grow again — and that's the bald truth
Unfair, unclear and a massive backward step for democracy
British PM, deputy clash over referendum
US gunslinger with immunity
Was Davis running Drone programme in Pakistan?
2G Scam: The buck stops at DMK
And free flows the Nile
The bat tle of Bahrain: King Hamad - the Mubarak of the Gulf
Israel could become the scapegoat of Egypt's new democracy
The Arab Revolution deals a blow to 'Project Israel'
Guests were naked at Berlusconi’s bunga bunga
UN urges Cambodia,Thailand ceasefire, but will it happen?
Iraq shelter bombed by US remains frozen in time
Mongolia's 'ninja miners' strike gold


Reproduction of articles permitted when used without any alterations to contents and a link to the source page.
© Copyright 1996 - 2011 | Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka. All Rights Reserved | Site best viewed in IE ver 8.0 @ 1024 x 768 resolution