Ancient Brits ate dead and made skulls into cups

Wed Feb 16, 2011 5:10pm EST
 
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By Madeleine Cowley

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Ancient Britons devoured their dead and created gruesome goblets from the skulls of their remains, according to new research published on Wednesday.

Researchers from London's Natural History Museum discovered 15,000-year-old human bones in southern England which showed signs of cannibalism and skulls made into drinking cups.

The skulls -- found in Gough's Cave in the Cheddar Gorge in the southwestern English county of Somerset -- had been meticulously cleaned of soft tissue, cut to remove the base and facial bones, and had their rough edges smoothed to create skull-cups or bowls, paleontologist Silvia Bello wrote in a study in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS ONE.

"All in all it was a very painstaking process given the tools available," Bello said in a statement.

The researchers said the cups may have been used as containers or for some ritualistic purpose.

"It's impossible to know how the skull-cups were used back then, but in recent examples they may hold blood, wine or food during rituals," said Chris Stringer, who helped excavate one of the skull-cups in 1987.

At about 14,700 years old, the skull-cups from Gough's Cave are the oldest directly dated examples in the world, the researchers said.

They said the circumstances behind the deaths of the Cro-Magnons (European early modern humans), whose bones they discovered, can only be guessed at.   Continued...