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. Willie12345

    So if the federal budget isn't cut ...... is this where we're headed ?

    February 17, 2011 at 12:12 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Dan

    Let's face it – corruption and greed keeps us from eating each other even today.
    Just wait a few months, the way the world is going right now, we might begin to enjoy the practice once more(?).

    February 17, 2011 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
  3. roxi

    maybe actually get the info from england??? the skulls found were more likely to have been used AFTER death and would not have been killed for this use, and there were 3 skulls. reporting this would be like saying harry potter does actually live and does perform magic, the only part of this that is true is skulls have been found, the picture is misleading as the skulls actually had wholes in nothigng like how they are pictures

    February 17, 2011 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
  4. hollowman

    Wake up people. Virtually all ancient societies practiced cannibalism. Read your history!

    February 17, 2011 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
  5. John

    Irish anyone?

    February 17, 2011 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Charlie Everett WA.

    Another interesting aspect of cannibalism and the British Isles is the theory that cannibalism was used for political purposes. It's been suggested there was a more ancient people - hunters-gathers - living in Scotland and Ireland whose territory was threatened by Bronze Age farmers who were building villages and taking over hunting grounds. The farmers were more numerous so the older population couldn't just drive them out. Instead they tried to scare them away (and reduce the farming population) by kidnapping and eating their children. But, apparently, they "didn't have the stomach" for it; the farmers stayed and the Ancient Ones vanished.

    February 17, 2011 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
  7. realitybites


    Nah mate, just havin a laugh. Wot are you, hay?

    February 17, 2011 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
  8. nor

    This is something I would have expected from the French....

    February 17, 2011 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Supermanisdead

    " I don't like spam!!"

    February 17, 2011 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
  10. SilentBoy741

    Well, that explains that ancient recipe for "Steve and Kidney Pie".

    February 17, 2011 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse |

    This just in. All Americans in the 1800's were cannibals. Evidence shows that a pioneer group on the way to California got caught in snow at the Donner pass and survived by eating the flesh of their dead companions. As a result of this amazing single event we can conclude that in the 1800's all Americans were cannibals

    February 17, 2011 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |

    Somethings been eating a me for years. My wife!

    February 17, 2011 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • JACK


      February 17, 2011 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
  13. shutterbug

    The vikings knew this centuries ago. The Scandinavian toast, "Skål", lifting ones cup into the air, was derived from "skull" where an enemy's skull was cleaned and fitted with a handle. The saying at that time was,"Never use the skull of a Brit... they have such small brains".

    February 17, 2011 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
  14. A Gough

    As a Gough myself I demand a retraction and more BBQ sauce, please

    February 17, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Frank

    People of the World,
    Since this all occured probably10.000 years ago around the ICE AGE and there was no organized farming(I.assume).HUMANS where struggling for survival probably everywhere on the planet. Brittan also being an island probably did not help the situation.

    February 17, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
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