Evidence of mass cannibalism uncovered in Germany

Evidence of mass cannibalism in which even children and unborn babies were on the menu has been uncovered in Germany by archaeologists.

Analysis of 7,000-year-old bones dug up at Herxheim in south-west Germany suggest the region was a centre for cannibalism at a time when the first European farming society may have been collapsing.

Marks on bones show that bodies were skinned and had their flesh removed using techniques almost identical to those for butchering animals and one researcher suggested that some of the victims could have been spit-roasted.

Many of the bones appear to have been deliberately smashed to allow the living to suck out the marrow of the dead. Others bear the “chew marks” of teeth and while they are too indistinct to be certain scavenging animals were not to blame, the “distinctive distribution speaks strongly in favour” of having been made by hungry humans.

Cut marks on the bones are often so clear that archaeologists have been able to distinguish between which cuts were intended to skin and scalp the bodies and which were made to get at the meat.

Archaeologists concluded cannibalism was taking place after carrying out a detailed study of bones identified as coming from six adults, at least one of them a man, two children aged about 6 and 15, and two unborn babies.

But with almost 500 other bodies already dug up at Herxheim and at least as many again still to be recovered the final number of people eaten by cannibals could be much higher.

Researchers suspect the remains belong either to people eaten in victory celebrations after being killed in wars, or to those slaughtered and consumed as part of ritual sacrifices. They said the sheer number of victims made it unlikely that cannibalism was a last resort during famines.

The 10 people whose remains were analysed for the study are all thought to have died at the same time and the researchers said: “The human bones show abundant and unequivocal evidence of human-indeced modifications. Modifications induced by the cutting up of corpses are cut marks and scrape marks.”

Once the ribs had been cut away from the spine the heads were broken open - “perhaps to extract the brain” - and the tongue cut out before the fleshy parts of the limbs were removed. Bones could then be removed and smashed open for the marrow.

“All these observations allow us to conclude that the individuals were cannibalised,” the archaelogical team concluded in their report published in the journal Antiquity. “It is highly probable that a great number of the thousand or so individuals probably deposited in Herxheim were subjected to cannibalism.”

Dr Bruno Boulestin, of Bordeaux University, accepted it was impossible to be certain if the flesh was eaten raw or was cooked but added: "We see patterns on the bones of animals indicating that they have been spit-roasted. We have seen some of these same patterns on the human bones.”

Herxheim’s remains date from a period when Europe is thought to have been plunged into upheaval, violence and decline following 500 years in which Neolithic farmers first settled the region.

Professor Chris Scarre, a neolithic expert at the University of Durham, said after learning of the study that the Herxheim site could represent useful evidence of a society in turmoil but cautioned that cannibalism can be hard to prove because other factors, such as funerary rites, can leave similar marks on bones.



Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Head Porter / Concierge

£16000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

Recruitment Genius: Credit Controller

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

Recruitment Genius: Interactive / Mobile Developer

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks