Journal of Anthropological Archaeology
The Mesolithic period in Europe, roughly 10,000 years ago, was a tumultuous time. Small groups of hunter-gatherers were undergoing a dramatic cultural transformation, making increasingly sophisticated stone tools with wooden components. They were on the cusp of the agricultural revolution, which would grant them a broader range of nutrition sources and greater food security. The environment was changing, too: the Ice Age was over, but the mid-Pleistocene warming period had not yet begun. And in a cave near the coast of Alicante, Spain, 120km south of Valencia, groups of humans began to engage in occasional acts of cannibalism.
In a recent paper for Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, University of Valencia anthropologist Juan V. Morales-Pérez and colleagues describe their discovery of human bones covered in marks that suggest what they delicately refer to as “anthropophagic practices.” Carbon dating suggests we’re looking at meals from at least two different events between 10,000 and 9,000 years ago. Though 30 different human bones are buried in the cave, the researchers write that there are skull remains from only three individuals: a heavyset person, a more diminutive one, and an infant (the infant skull shows no sign of cannibalism). At a minimum, then, two people were eaten, and possibly several more. There are no signs of violence, so these people were probably eaten after death.
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