Ancient Brits were cannibals, scientists say
A human skull shows evidence of cut marks, indicating it was manipulated for use as a cup, scientists say.
February 17th, 2011
07:48 AM ET

Ancient Brits were cannibals, scientists say

Britons' fondness for a spot of tea is legendary. What isn't so well known is that their ancestors sipped their drinks from human skulls.

Scientists working at a site in Somerset, England, have found the first evidence of cannibalism in the British Isles, including the use of skulls for drinking cups, according to a study published Thursday by the Public Library of Science.

"New analyses of human remains from Gough's Cave demonstrate the skilled post-mortem manipulation of human bodies," write researchers Silvia M. Bello, Simon A. Parfitt and Chris B. Stringer with London's Natural History Museum and University College London.

They also found evidence - tool marks and prying damage - that human bodies were methodically butchered 14,000 years ago and bone marrow was removed for eating. The bodies' craniums were carefully separated from the jaw and facial bones and the edges were smoothed out for usefulness and comfort, they wrote.

"This shows us the complexity of human behavior in ancient Britain. ... They treated their dead in many different ways," Stringer told The Australian. "It seems gruesome to us, but there are people in Asia today who aren't even meat eaters, who treasure human skulls and use them as drinking bowls."

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Filed under: Science • United Kingdom
soundoff (245 Responses)
  1. MichaelEdits

    That would explain why HP Sauce is so delicious

    February 17, 2011 at 7:49 am | Report abuse |
    • UHhello

      I have always loved HP Sauce and now I know why thank you Michael for connecting the dots for me.

      February 17, 2011 at 9:05 am | Report abuse |
    • Sipsey

      "Secret's in the sauce!" – Fried Green Tomatoes

      February 17, 2011 at 9:31 am | Report abuse |
    • mobrule

      who doesn't like to sip from a human skull? it took 'scientists' to come up with this?

      February 17, 2011 at 9:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Joe in Colorado

      Maybe they fed the marrow to their animals ?

      February 17, 2011 at 9:47 am | Report abuse |
    • BADGUY

      The Scandanavian toast "Skol" referred to their drinking cups: Human skulls. The Scandanavians were doing this a lot later than 14,000 years ago!

      February 17, 2011 at 10:35 am | Report abuse |
    • BADGUY what's SO new about "ancient" Brits eating each other. Here in Wisconsin we're still eating each other (J. Dahmer, Ed Gyne, etc, etc, etc). No big thing! Now where are the stock market reports I was looking for before my finger (mistakenly) pecked on this article.

      February 17, 2011 at 10:48 am | Report abuse |
    • LS

      actually the brits haven't evolved much from those days lol

      February 17, 2011 at 11:17 am | Report abuse |
    • That's the way it was

      Well, the Brits were not alone. Where do you think the Scandanavian drinking salutation "Skol!" comes from??

      February 17, 2011 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
    • Jeremy

      the BROWN sauce! 🙂

      February 17, 2011 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
  2. Church Lady

    Well isn't that special !

    February 17, 2011 at 8:01 am | Report abuse |
    • BADGUY

      I think this article really brings out how primitive early peoples were. Just look at the skull's edges. Sharp. You could really put a serious cut in your mouth drinking from something like this. With today's modern machining technology we could produce these with nice, clean edges. Would tcertainly be a lot safer for the user!

      February 17, 2011 at 10:54 am | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      Ah, but now the Brits are more advanced. Nowadays, they have blood pudding!

      February 17, 2011 at 11:31 am | Report abuse |
  3. OR

    I think there are many expalantions to this. it could be that you belong to a religious cult and part of their rituals is to belong for ever, ever present in meetings. One of the ways to ensure this is to drink from a dead member's skull. This is not canibalism as presented. It has to be taken in the context of the people who lived this live, not seen from our 'enlightened' mirror. I disagree ( and I am not even from this Island called Britain).

    February 17, 2011 at 8:05 am | Report abuse |
    • aj4

      Possibly, but the evidence for the bone marrow extraction (possibly distinctive tool-induced marks on the bones) confirms the use of the deceased for nutrition.

      February 17, 2011 at 9:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Dennis

      You must have missed the part where they said they found evidence that human bones had been opened to cosume the marrow inside. That would be cannibalism.

      February 17, 2011 at 9:25 am | Report abuse |
    • J

      You don't have to go back that far. When the English invaded Native America there was acts of cannabilism done by the Brits to the surpirse honestly.

      February 17, 2011 at 9:37 am | Report abuse |
    • Daryn

      There may be explanations and those explanations are being offered by scientists, not some layman speculating on a forum. The arrogance that any of us "thought of something" the researchers did not consider is foolishly vain.

      February 17, 2011 at 9:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Brett

      This only demonstrates that the ancient residents of Gough's Cave were cannibals. The PLoS publication doesn't generalize the practice of cannibalism to the entire Isle. It takes a science illiterate like the "author" of this story to come up that gem in order to reel in suckers like us to read over the article.

      February 17, 2011 at 11:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      Brett, the headline and article NEVER said that ALL ancient Brits were cannibals. It said ancient Brits. Note the absence of the word ALL.
      It's just a sensationalized headline to sell their news product and advertisements, nothing more.
      And it worked, we ALL read the story!
      And all that I could think of after was, at least they now bring the world civilization. And blood pudding.

      February 17, 2011 at 11:35 am | Report abuse |
  4. Big Al

    I hear that you also couldn't get proper chips 14,000 years ago either!

    February 17, 2011 at 8:05 am | Report abuse |
  5. Dennis


    February 17, 2011 at 8:08 am | Report abuse |
    • dude

      More brains!

      February 17, 2011 at 9:47 am | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      What do we want??? BRAAAAAAAINS When do we want them?? BRAAAAAAAINSS!!!!

      February 17, 2011 at 9:48 am | Report abuse |
  6. Cesar

    The Brits were cannibals? Is that bloody right?

    February 17, 2011 at 8:10 am | Report abuse |
    • wjmknight

      Well, I understand British men don't eat british women...heh heh...

      February 17, 2011 at 11:27 am | Report abuse |
  7. caveman

    Isn't this how White Castle got started?

    February 17, 2011 at 8:10 am | Report abuse |
    • hecep

      Sliders? No. It's the grease.

      February 17, 2011 at 9:13 am | Report abuse |
  8. Philip

    Amazing. I haven't read the entire article, but I'm sure there will be pictures of the tools they used and human skeletal remains that were "methodIcally butchered" featured in the complete article. (this would explain Tony Blair's behavior as well, I reckon) he he

    February 17, 2011 at 8:12 am | Report abuse |
  9. Philip


    February 17, 2011 at 8:14 am | Report abuse |
  10. Philip

    Ello olde chap rather.

    February 17, 2011 at 8:17 am | Report abuse |
  11. George

    Big Al

    I hear that you also couldn't get proper chips 14,000 years ago either!

    February 17, 2011 at 8:05 am
    That's why their computers were so slow.

    February 17, 2011 at 8:17 am | Report abuse |
  12. Sutler


    February 17, 2011 at 8:23 am | Report abuse |
  13. Mr_Crowley

    tasty and organic

    February 17, 2011 at 8:24 am | Report abuse |
  14. LMAO

    I suppose that accounts for the hideously bad teeth.

    February 17, 2011 at 8:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Jules

      You are arrogant – not all Brits have bad teeth – look at people like Catherine Zeta Jones. It would be like me saying all you Americans are fat, loud and obnoxious – no don't think so. If you are trying to be funny, try being it without insulting millions of people. By the way, I'm British/American and haven't had a single cavity even though I'm middle-aged. Wonder how many people can say that?

      February 17, 2011 at 10:06 am | Report abuse |
    • The Dude

      The bad teeth are from gnawing through the flesh and bones.

      February 17, 2011 at 10:54 am | Report abuse |
    • Billy Bob

      No, that is from inter-breeding, total lack of proper dental hygiene, lack of a population of dentists like mine, Dr. Hirschkowitz, no sealants or flouride–probably why they are smarter on avg. than U.S. population, and the fact that being named Nigel just requires one to have crooked teeth and remain in character no? I mean if they all had Hollywood porcelian veneers and implants then what? Would they then start tanning, working out, becoming muscular and becoming more macho than french men? Hmmm....quien es mas macho, la francesa or el inglesa? Beep, equivacado, el hombre de espana claro.

      February 17, 2011 at 10:58 am | Report abuse |
  15. Sean

    I understand so much more about where the names of much of the food there comes from now.

    February 17, 2011 at 8:30 am | Report abuse |
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