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. BobW


    I don't think you can make that kind of generalization. It depends upon the cut and also the individual. A marathoner might be tough and stringy while an obese grain-fed person might be moist and juicy due to the marbliazation of the fat.

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

    Can people learn some history. The English weren't in Britain 14000 years ago.

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

      @Abe, That is right Abe, they felt off the Sky into the U.K. and conquered the World. Then tortured others. Well, take care all the Muslim folks up-there, it seem like they are torturing the UK now.

      February 17, 2011 at 11:04 am | Report abuse |
  3. SoS

    Not the best science, and the reporting isn't much better.

    This is not necessarily a sign that these people were cannibals. A skull fashioned into a cup does not make a cannibal. The nazi's are a prime example of this. Though they were horrid people, I have not yet heard of any cannibalism among their ranks, and they had a variety of things they did with parts of the dead.

    Also, there have been other discoveries within the last few years that do point to cannibalism in early Briton. In fact, the article I refer to was posted here on CNN. Sad that CNN doesn't even know what it already reported.

    February 17, 2011 at 10:56 am | Report abuse |
    • JACK

      @SoS, you are right SoS, Brits only tortured and killed other Races and Ethnics groups.

      February 17, 2011 at 11:08 am | Report abuse |
  4. travs

    is anyone surprised? i guess i just assume that all ancient civilizations practiced cannabalism at some point.

    February 17, 2011 at 10:57 am | Report abuse |
  5. PeterD

    The bloody Brits did not know about Tea till the formation of east Indai Company. Prior to that they drank blood of their owns and that is why we call the Booldy Brits.

    February 17, 2011 at 10:58 am | Report abuse |
    • JACK

      @PeterD, you never know, they might serve BLOODS and LIVERS at the Royal Wedding in April! Stay away, if I were you.

      February 17, 2011 at 11:13 am | Report abuse |
  6. DS

    Meh...I have a whole set of human dinnerware.

    February 17, 2011 at 10:58 am | Report abuse |
  7. realitybites

    Sweeny Todd's ancestor used to cut hair and skulls. Meat Pie anyone?

    February 17, 2011 at 11:02 am | Report abuse |
  8. Timus, Powder Springs, GA

    It figures!!!

    February 17, 2011 at 11:03 am | Report abuse |
  9. randaxe

    bloody hell

    February 17, 2011 at 11:05 am | Report abuse |
  10. smm

    defleshing a skeleton is not proof of cannibalism, it is proof that they wanted the bone clean for SOME reason. tool marks and prying are not bite marks. extraction of bone marrow does not mean it was eaten by the people who extracted it. who knows whether it was even native brits who performed these actions? if there are more clear indications that this was brits eating brits, this little blurb doesn't say. i suppose it is asking too much to actually print more in this article, rather than making us link to the the Public Library of Science...

    February 17, 2011 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |
  11. Don

    In really hard times people from every culture resort to cannibalism.

    February 17, 2011 at 11:25 am | Report abuse |
    • John

      So, what else is new, everybody was a cannibal, at one time or another, in our evolution.

      February 17, 2011 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
    • hunnykins

      It appears "soylent green" was actually and ancient concept revisited.

      February 17, 2011 at 11:55 am | Report abuse |
    • Bryan Moore

      As Conrad's Marlow says, leaving London in a yawl, "And this also . . . has been one of the dark places of the earth."

      February 17, 2011 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      Maybe they were feeding the marrow to their animals.

      February 17, 2011 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Billy Bob

      In the USA today we call them Republicans.

      February 17, 2011 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • SSB

      This may explain the cross-dressing

      February 17, 2011 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse |
  12. MeowTV2

    Another explanation would be a zombie invasion of Britain 14000 years ago...or maybe it was the V's first contact.

    February 17, 2011 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
  13. dee

    No wonder mad cow started in the UK!

    February 17, 2011 at 11:35 am | Report abuse |
  14. RTH

    Remember the Donnelly Party? How about the South American sports team trapped on a mountaintop after their plane crashed? It happens.

    February 17, 2011 at 11:35 am | Report abuse |
    • jake

      I belive you mean Donner?

      February 17, 2011 at 11:44 am | Report abuse |
  15. tct

    I think they were Vegans, but evolution let them adapt to this solar system.

    February 17, 2011 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
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