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. KØRO

    So Lord Byron was not an iconoclast, an original, but just a copycat. I won't be laudin'im any longer.

    February 17, 2011 at 10:22 am | Report abuse |
  2. newt

    And how is that different from modern Brits?

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

      You mean apart from the fact that you are talking of different people!

      February 17, 2011 at 10:55 am | Report abuse |
  3. Jorge Pantoja

    I think they just ran out of the cups they handmade and had to improvise; possibly don't you think?

    February 17, 2011 at 10:31 am | Report abuse |
  4. pete

    Would you pour me a head of tea please?

    February 17, 2011 at 10:32 am | Report abuse |
  5. cra

    Well this explains English cooking.

    February 17, 2011 at 10:32 am | Report abuse |
    • Abe

      Except the English are not Ancient Britons!

      February 17, 2011 at 10:51 am | Report abuse |
  6. Omoba

    It is interesting to see so much defence here. Even for something theorized to have happened 14k yrs ago. If it were about some so called third world people, there will not be so much questioning of how the conclusion was reached; just enthusiastic acceptance. Humans and their arrogance. Bottom line is that superiority complex is simply a crutch for many societies.

    February 17, 2011 at 10:33 am | Report abuse |
  7. md71chicago

    Two cannibals are eating a clown, one said to the other "Does this taste funny?" (Robin Williams joke)

    February 17, 2011 at 10:33 am | Report abuse |
  8. Macleod2012

    everyone already knew this.....is why 1/3 of them are immune to mad cow disease

    February 17, 2011 at 10:38 am | Report abuse |
  9. CrustyOldGuy

    I think we need to revive some of
    our traditional values and
    EAT THE RICH!

    February 17, 2011 at 10:40 am | Report abuse |
  10. Rosslaw

    This explains a lot about British cuisine which I have to say, though, has improved immeasurably. Now, if they could just start recovering from the catastrophic hit British hot water and indoor heating technology took when the Romans left in 500 A.D.

    February 17, 2011 at 10:40 am | Report abuse |
  11. Fuyuko

    All humans were cannibals at one time or another, and Celts have long collected heads and used skulls for drinking cups. It wasn't uncommon for warriors to have chests of heads or to have them on altars or stuck on stakes in their encampments. This is hardly anything very suprising.

    February 17, 2011 at 10:45 am | Report abuse |
  12. Jason B.

    Makes sense, really. When food is a relatively scarce commodity, or requires a lot of energy to acquire, any item that can be easily obtained can be food. I can eat Bill, who just died and is right here, or I can expend a lot of energy hunting something down and I may not succeed in the hunt.

    February 17, 2011 at 10:47 am | Report abuse |
  13. Abe

    That's the English off the hook. Anglo-Saxons are not ancient Britons.

    February 17, 2011 at 10:48 am | Report abuse |
  14. Liberty Queen

    Typical Brits... Cannibals and War Criminals.

    February 17, 2011 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Abe

      Perhaps the Scots, Welsh and Irish are but the English weren't in Britain 14000 years ago.

      February 17, 2011 at 10:50 am | Report abuse |
  15. Abe

    What do you think bone china is!

    February 17, 2011 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
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