Found evidence of cannibalism during the Ancient Neolithic | Science

Found evidence of cannibalism during the Ancient Neolithic | Science

7,000 years ago, communities of shepherds, farmers and artisans populated Andalusia. They lived together with their flocks in natural refuges, where they slept, cooked meat, cereals and vegetables and worked clay. In one of those places it has been discovered that its inhabitants practiced cannibalism. Specifically in the cave of the Bull, in the El Torcal de Antequera (Málaga), where they have found traces of teeth and human bites in ribs, a sternum and phalanges of other congeners. There have also been evidenced cuts made with tools to separate the meat from the skeletal remains. In addition, a skull carved like a cup that had previously been boiled and skinned has been found. "Cannibalism is a practice that until now was unknown in the Ancient Neolithic, that is, about 7,000 years ago," explains Dimas Martín Socas, Professor of Prehistory at the University of La Laguna, who together with his counterpart and archaeologist María Dolores Camalich -Massieu studies this space since the mid-seventies.

Both met the cave in 1975 and the material they found, intact and well preserved, encouraged them to conduct a research campaign in 1977. Four more followed until 1988. They found remains of seven individuals in two different sets (four adults, two adolescents and one child) and, after a long study, presented the final results of their work in 2004. Now, with the help of an interdisciplinary team of researchers, novel analysis techniques and data thrown by new DNA tests and the dating by carbon 14, have returned to walk the road with more tools. And that renewed look at all the documentation has allowed them, finally, to demonstrate the existence of cannibalism in the cavity. Above all, thanks to the detection of that careful work to turn a skull into an object to drink, "as if it had been a stone carving," says Camalich-Massieu.

The results of the genetic study of the 101 bone fragments found have established that there are only first degree consanguinity relations in two of the seven individuals found, which could be mother and daughter or sisters. And independently of his remains, there was that cranium worked and a jaw whose genetics was not related to them. It is precisely another of the keys that has allowed to demonstrate the cannibalism in the inhabitants of this refuge, since it allows to raise the hypothesis of the existence of a cannibalism that included the consumption of human parts within a funerary ritual. The other alternative posed by researchers is the practice of aggressive cannibalism between enemy groups formed by members of the same family, as stated in the article published in the scientific journal American Journal of Physical Anthropology.


The found remains of wheat, barley, lentils, beans, acorns and goat and sheep meat inside the cavity allow to discard the idea that hunger was related to this practice. "The analysis of human remains does not indicate any problem of food type: they had a complex and rich diet," underlines Camalich, who along with Dimas has presented the results of this work together with a team of archaeological performances led by Jonathan Santana, from the University of Durham (United Kingdom) and formed by Francisco Javier Rodríguez-Santos, of the International Institute of Prehistoric Research of Cantabria of the University of Santander and Rosa Fregel, of the University of La Laguna.

Dimas Martín and María Dolores Camalich-Massieu, in the cave of El Toro.
Dimas Martín and María Dolores Camalich-Massieu, in the cave of El Toro. Archaeological Complex Dolmens of Antequera

Cannibalism is a practice that has been studied in other cavities in Spain, Germany or the United Kingdom, always linked to human beings from more recent or much earlier times, already in the Upper Paleolithic (about 15,000 years ago). However, its existence was not known in the Ancient Neolithic. Therefore, this discovery now raises the review of the remains of that period, which will cause, "probably, similar episodes are found elsewhere," explains the team of archaeologists. In fact, there is already interest in carrying out this work. analysis in the nearby cave of Ardales, about 25 kilometers away in a straight line, but there is no evidence of cannibalism in that cavity, according to its curator, Pedro Cantalejo.

The cave of the Bull was abandoned as a permanent refuge about 6,000 years ago. A collapse of its structure knocked down the deck and hindered the entrance (which until then had easy access) as well as its habitability. However, it has never stopped being occupied occasionally. And during the different research campaigns have been found remains of the Copper Age, the Bronze Age, the Roman period and even the Middle Ages. Many of these objects will be part of the monographic museum that is built in the Dolmens of Antequera archaeological complex, which will be inaugurated in the semester of next year. The exhibition exhibition will start, precisely, with the skull carved in the shape of a cup and an analysis of the Ancient Neolithic, as it serves to explain the context prior to the construction of the Menga Dolmen and the Viera Dolmen, megalithic monuments that make up this Antequera .

Rituals of worship in great monuments


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