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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soundoff (245 Responses)
  1. Byrd

    Following the Great Flood, the survivors would have lost everything because the Earth was essentially scoured by the tidal forces. All survivors probably resorted to cannibalism at some time or another, so this news isn't terribly surprising.

    February 17, 2011 at 9:19 am | Report abuse |
    • leapfrot

      How quaint...a creationist. I didn't think there were any left.

      February 17, 2011 at 10:00 am | Report abuse |
    • sssimon

      wow – a brain damaged moron flapping his gums.

      February 17, 2011 at 10:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Quincey9

      Ummm.....What "great flood"?

      February 17, 2011 at 10:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Some guy

      Byrd, didn't they have some animals with them?

      February 17, 2011 at 10:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Byrd

      leapfrog: This has nothing to do with creationism, but everything to do with scientific fact. The Bible's Old Testament is only useful for hints as to what might have happened here. The rest is either ancient history or a lie. Bruce Massee at JPL has done some fantastic archaeological detective work in identifying impact sites around the globe. Here's a link to one of his articles:

      February 17, 2011 at 10:44 am | Report abuse |
    • sssimon

      Byrd – there have been numerous "great floods" that were big deals in the area where they occured but weren't global.

      IF ancient people were affected by a flood or any other disaster of course they would record it.

      Bu there is no evidence of a flood that "scoured the entire Earth" as described in the Bible. At least nothing like it for several million years. We do think an asteroid was responsible for wiping out most life on this planet – The Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction, 65 million years ago. And no, there weren't any people around to witness that. Though you probably believe the Earth is only 7,000 years old don't you? Ask the archaeologist you cite if he agrees.

      February 17, 2011 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Marge

    Who are we to judge ancestors of 14,000 years ago. They didn't have supermarkets to go to. And the wilds of Britain probably didn't have too much opportunity to find food. They probably did the best they could. Just because they use the bodies after death does not mean the killed them for food. They might have just taken what the needed for nourishment.

    February 17, 2011 at 9:23 am | Report abuse |
  3. AMP

    It is very much possible since Britos were ruthless and greddy who killed many innocents all over the world and ruled over them. There is saying You get the hickups on what you ate. In Asia mostly in India peope are vegetarian and believe in KARMA. That is why they high tolerance and let every nation people settled in India. People must stop killing innocent animals and eat them for pleasure. There is plenty of vegetarin food available in the world. Also, democracy is a gift from Hinduism which believes that there is parliament/upper house/lower house/senate above all of us which controls the world. Thst's why Hinduism has many god and goddesses. Each holds different portfolio.

    February 17, 2011 at 9:27 am | Report abuse |
  4. Andre

    In extreme conditions the dog's best friend has been resorting to neighbor noshing even in more recent times (the Donner Party, the Andes plane crash...)

    February 17, 2011 at 9:27 am | Report abuse |
  5. BJD

    A million things wrong with this article.

    To start, tea wasn't introduced to Britain until much much later so they weren't sipping tea from the skulls.

    It is well known that many of these people revered their ancestors and would use the skulls of ancestors as drinking devices for many reasons.

    February 17, 2011 at 9:28 am | Report abuse |
  6. Alina77

    14000 years ago? It doesn't seems like too long ago, they should be a little smart in that time, smart enough to have stomach problems when seeing butchered human bodies. Maybe it was some kinds of cult, of man eaters.

    February 17, 2011 at 9:28 am | Report abuse |
  7. greg

    Still, not as bad as having to eat at a mcdonalds.

    February 17, 2011 at 9:29 am | Report abuse |
  8. jonnyposter

    If I were one of them I know I'd have been doing the same.

    February 17, 2011 at 9:33 am | Report abuse |
  9. teepee

    everyone knows white folk eat their yong...

    February 17, 2011 at 9:34 am | Report abuse |
  10. JACK

    When the White men explored Papua New Guinea or other parts of the world. They thinked they were better than other RACES....Well thanks to Modern Science! We are all alike! NO ONE SUPERIOR THAN OTHER...just the technologies and weapons that make one better than other.

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

      "thinked"? really?

      February 17, 2011 at 11:26 am | Report abuse |
  11. Some guy

    A barbarian will always be a barbarian... proven through the ages....

    February 17, 2011 at 9:41 am | Report abuse |
  12. nick smith

    A few of these cannibals can still be seen today, at football games, noticebly at Millwall matches in london.

    February 17, 2011 at 9:41 am | Report abuse |
    • Some guy

      and in Congress...

      February 17, 2011 at 9:43 am | Report abuse |
  13. The_Mick

    It's not clear if this was a ceremonial ritual of common among all ancient Britons. Additionally, since the ancestors of most of today's Britons: Celts, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Danes, etc, emigrated to that island 10,000 years or more AFTER these people, it's not clear how many of this particular tribe -if any- were "ancestors" of today's Brits.

    February 17, 2011 at 9:44 am | Report abuse |
    • chumbawumba

      OK, maybe not the Brits, but almost definitely the Scots.

      February 17, 2011 at 10:36 am | Report abuse |
    • Abe

      The Anglo Saxons arrived in Britain 8th and 9th century C.E. The English weren't there 14000 years ago.

      February 17, 2011 at 10:53 am | Report abuse |
  14. Willy

    @Teepee : What is a yong?

    I suspect this was a pagan ritual. But there would be many reasons to drink from a human skull as horrible as it is to us.
    If from a conquered enemy you would show disrespect but if it was a great man's skull they might think they would gain wisdom in so doing. Still, Yuck!

    February 17, 2011 at 9:46 am | Report abuse |
  15. Some Dude

    "Well there's brains eggs sausage and brains, that hasn't got much brains in it"

    February 17, 2011 at 9:46 am | Report abuse |
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