Early Britons were cannibals who drank out of cups made from human skulls, hoard of remains reveal
As reported by the Daily Mail.
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 last night.
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.
Fancy a drink? A skull discovered in Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, 20 years ago which was used by ancient Britons to drink from
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 spirit 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.
Grave situation: The remains of one of the ‘victims’ of the cannibals, parts of which were used as utensils
‘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.
Ancestors: The early Britons were known to be cannibals and use skulls as utensils
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.
Find: The skulls were discovered 20 years ago in Cheddar Gorge, Somerset