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. Dave308

    Brits...the other, other white meat.

    February 17, 2011 at 9:47 am | Report abuse |
  2. Sam

    So they had a better diet than today's Brits, then.

    February 17, 2011 at 9:48 am | Report abuse |
    • Abe

      Funny how many of the world's best restaurants are in the UK!

      February 17, 2011 at 10:56 am | Report abuse |
  3. Anant


    It proves once again that British food will make a man do anything!

    February 17, 2011 at 9:50 am | Report abuse |
  4. Shr_Nfr

    The use of a skull cap or kapala as a cup in ritual offerings is hardly anything that was long ago and far away. The practice still survives in the Bon and some forms of Buddhist religion in the Tibet/Nepal/Bhutan region as well as Hindu Tantra practice. This does not mean that these people were or are cannibals any more than the presence of religions relics such as some saint's body part implies that the Pope is. Nepal has now banned the export of kapalas,

    February 17, 2011 at 9:56 am | Report abuse |
    • MikeD

      While skull drinking vessels might be subject to "interpretation" as to their use or significance, methodical extraction of bone marrow points in one direction, and one direction only. It was eaten.

      February 17, 2011 at 10:17 am | Report abuse |
  5. Heath

    This is a rather silly headline isn't it?
    I imagine there was a time when all humans were cannibals. Britain wasn't even Britain at the time so how does living on a certain island make one a cannibal? Can we just come to the conclusion that early humans were cannibals in order to survive.

    Have a great day!

    February 17, 2011 at 9:56 am | Report abuse |
  6. WhiteCannibalGuy

    Cannibalism and incest are what most of us whites did in the Caucus Mountains before the darker skinned people of the world released us from our cave prisons!

    February 17, 2011 at 9:59 am | Report abuse |
    • Heather

      Yes! I've always suspected that the Brits - and white folks in general - are more violent than other races. I mean, just look at HOCKEY for goodness sake (compared to basketball or soccer). And then there's the Vikings, and Genghis Kahn. Maybe it's the cold weather. I can say these things because I'm 100% brit-northern european myself.

      February 17, 2011 at 10:23 am | Report abuse |
    • chumbawumba

      Wait, aren't the Caucus mountains in Iowa?

      Or maybe you mean the Caucasus mountains, which are in Russia and a few other countries that used to be in Russia. Which, if you were a true American, you would know because you could see them from your porch.

      February 17, 2011 at 10:39 am | Report abuse |
  7. Jack

    How the hell do these gienuses know that animals didn't do this? They don't!

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

      Had you bothered to actually read the article you would have noted that they found evidence that bodies had been "methodically butchered 14,000 years ago and bone marrow was removed. . ."

      February 17, 2011 at 10:21 am | Report abuse |
  8. W7RKD

    Any relation to Hannibal Lecter?

    February 17, 2011 at 10:08 am | Report abuse |
  9. Jo

    Drinking from a skull doesn't make you a cannibal, The French would drink from a ladies silk slipper; and that just made them arrogant and rude, not cannibals.

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

      The French drank from womens shoes made them gay and able to say "I SURRENDER" so much easily.

      February 17, 2011 at 10:11 am | Report abuse |
  10. Charles

    The way I see it – all of you of English decent have to be included in this discovery. So don't get so squimish white people.

    February 17, 2011 at 10:09 am | Report abuse |
  11. DBnNH

    Also found were the remains of a bird identified as a Norwegian Blue and found to have tiny nails driven through its claws. . . .

    February 17, 2011 at 10:12 am | Report abuse |
  12. dog

    Not possible, 14000 years ago God made us 6000 years ago so how can that be

    February 17, 2011 at 10:13 am | Report abuse |
    • JACK

      @Dog you read and believe too much bible. It will screw up your brain.

      February 17, 2011 at 10:57 am | Report abuse |
  13. tracey

    brings a whole new meaning to 'I was outa my skull last night'

    February 17, 2011 at 10:15 am | Report abuse |
  14. tomd

    At least it wasn't someone from China, you are hungry again in an hour.

    February 17, 2011 at 10:16 am | Report abuse |
  15. Odinate

    This is barely news; we know that Germanic and Celtic tribes still used skulls for this purpose well into the Dark Ages.

    February 17, 2011 at 10:17 am | Report abuse |
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