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
New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashion
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all