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The oldest evidence of human cannibalism as a funerary practice in Europe

The oldest evidence of human cannibalism as a funerary practice in Europe

The oldest evidence of human cannibalism as a funerary practice in Europe

According to a new study, cannibalism was a common funerary practice in northern Europe around 15,000 years ago, with people eating their dead not out of necessity but rather as part of their culture.

Gough’s Cave is a well-known paleolithic site in south-eastern England. Nestled in the Cheddar Gorge, the cave is perhaps best known for the discovery of 15,000 years old human skulls shaped into what are believed to have been cups and bones that had been gnawed by other humans.

A study published in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews suggests this was not an isolated incident. Their research focused on the Magdalenian period of the late Upper Paleolithic era. The Magdalenians lived some 11,000 to 17,000 years ago.

Experts at London’s National History Museum reviewed the literature to identify 59 Magdalenian sites that have human remains. Most were in France, with sites also in Germany, Spain, Russia, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Portugal. They were able to interpret the funerary behaviors at 25 of the sites.

The ritualistic manipulation of human remains and its frequent occurrence at sites across northern and western Europe suggested cannibalism was a burial practice – rather than to supplement diet – widespread in Magdalenian culture, researchers said.

‘Instead of burying their dead, these people were eating them,’ explains Dr. Silvia Bello, an expert on the evolution of human behaviour working at the Natural History Museum. ‘We interpret the evidence that cannibalism was practiced on multiple occasions across north-western Europe over a short period of time, as this practice was part of a diffuse funerary behaviour among Magdalenian groups.’

‘That in itself is interesting, because it is the oldest evidence of cannibalism as a funerary practice.’

This cannibalistic behaviour was seemingly fairly common amongst Magdalenian people of north-western Europe, but it didn’t last particularly long. There was a shift towards people burying their dead, a behaviour seen widely across south-central Europe and attributed to a second distinct culture, known as the Epigravettian.

Human remains from across north-western Europe indicate that cannibalism was a funerary practice.

This then raises the question of whether the eventual relative ubiquity of burial culture towards the end of the Palaeolithic was the result of Magdalenian people adopting primary burial as a funerary behaviour, or if their population was replaced.

Cannibalism as funerary behaviour

During the late Upper Palaeolithic, between around 23,000 and 14,000 years ago, there were two dominate cultures in western Europe, largely distinguished by the stone and bone tools the crafted.

The Epigravettian culture was mainly found living in south and eastern Europe, and buried their dead with graves goods in a way that we would perhaps consider more usual by modern standards. The Magdalenian culture from the north-west of Europe, however, were doing things differently. They were processing the bodies of their dead, removing the flesh from the corpse, eating it, and in some cases modifying the remaining bones to create new objects.

One of the main questions was whether or not this cannibalism was driven by necessity, when perhaps food was scarce or the winter long and so the people responsible were in survival mode, or whether it was a cultural behaviour.

Evidence from Gough’s Cave already suggests that the eating of the bodies there was of a more ritualistic form. This is because there is ample evidence that the people responsible were hunting and eating lots of other animals, such as deer and horses, while the careful preparation of some of the human remains like the skull cup and an engraved bone show that some was thought was being put into the cannibalism.

Dr. William Marsh is a researcher at the Natural History Museum who has been studying the human remains that have been found in Gough’s Cave for his Ph.D.

“To contextualize Gough’s Cave better, I reviewed of all the archaeological sites attributed to the Magdalenian and Epigravettian Upper Paleolithic culture,” explains William. He was able to find 59 sites across Europe from this time which had human remains, of which 13 showed evidence of cannibalism, 10 of burial and two that showed combined evidence of burial and cannibalism. What he realized was that the practice of eating the dead was fairly localized, being found at sites across western and central Europe and up into the U.K.

“The fact that we find cannibalism being practiced often on multiple occasions in over a short period of time, in a fairly localized area and solely by individuals attributed to the Magdalenian culture, means we believe this behavior was one that was performed widely by the Magdalenian, and was therefore a funerary behavior in itself,” says William.

In this context, the eating of the dead can be seen as different in practice, but perhaps not meaning, to cremations, burials or mummification.

Some of the human bones found at Gough’s Cave show evidence of having been worked, implying that the cannibalism had a ritualistic function.

Changing funerary practices

Building on this, William and Silvia were then able to look at whether any genetic analysis had been done on the human remains from these sites. This would enable the researchers to see if there were any links between who was practicing which funerary behaviors.

Remarkably, the genetic evidence seems to suggest that the two groups practicing different funerary behaviors were genetically distinct populations. All the sites from which evidence of cannibalism has been found show that the people were part of a genetic group known as “GoyetQ2,” while all of the more ordinary burials were of people who belonged to the “Villabruna” genetic group.

While both groups were living in Europe at the same time, individuals showing GoyetQ2 ancestry are associated with the region spanning the French-Spanish border, while Villabruna ancestry was carried by individuals who inhabited the Italian-Balkan region. This implies that when the practice of eating the dead ended and more conventional burials became common place in north-western Europe, it wasn’t through a spreading of ideas but rather Epigravettian people replacing the Magdalenian.

“At this time, during the terminal period of the Paleolithic, you actually see a turnover in both genetic ancestry and funerary behavior,” explains William. “The Magdalenian associated ancestry and funerary behavior is replaced by Epigravettian associated ancestry and funerary behavior, indicative of population replacement as Epigravettian groups migrated into north-western Europe.”

“We believe that rather than being an example of transcultural diffusion, the change in funerary behavior identified is an example of demic diffusion where essentially one population comes in and replaces the other population.”

Interestingly, this mirrors how researchers believe farming arrived in the U.K. some 6,000 years later.

Poland’s oldest copper axe discovered in the Lublin region

Poland’s oldest copper axe discovered in the Lublin region

Poland’s oldest copper axe discovered in the Lublin region

A copper axe from the 4th to 3rd millennium BC identified with the Trypillia culture was found in the Horodło municipality in the Hrubieszów district.

An axe discovered in the Hrubieszów district, identified with the Trypillia culture, is most likely the oldest find of a copper product in Poland informed the Lublin Provincial Conservator of Monuments.

The Lublin Provincial Conservator of Monuments has described the valuable relic as being 7.4 cm in length, with a wide fan-shaped blade 4.1 cm wide, and a rectangular convex head measuring 0.9 cm x 0.6 cm.

The Cucuteni-Trypillia culture was one of the most important in South-Eastern Europe. It originated as a result of interactions between different Neolithic groups in the Carpathian-Balkan region during the second half of the sixth millennium BCE.

The fact that the ax appeared in eastern Poland is surprising because the territorial scope of the Trypillian culture covered the areas of today’s Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, and western Ukraine.

Photo: Lublin Provincial Conservator of Monuments

Analyzing the find in terms of its chronological and cultural affiliation, the archaeologist from the Zamość delegation of the Voivodeship Office for the Protection of Historical Monuments, Wiesław Koman, sought the assistance of Professor Elżbieta Kłosińska from the Institute of Archaeology of the Maria Curie-Skłodowska University in Lublin.

The specialist ruled out that the presented axe belonged to Bronze Age cultures, as the artifact in no way corresponded to the known and already fairly well-recognized typologies of axes from that period.

“In addition, our ax was made in a quite simple ‘primitive’ casting method, in a flat-convex form, no longer used in the developed metallurgy of the Bronze Age.

Therefore, it was necessary to pay attention to the earlier Neolithic era. Unfortunately, in the inventories of Neolithic cultures from Poland there is no such equivalent,” the Lublin Conservator reported on social media.

The puzzle was solved by turning to archaeological finds from within Ukraine. “Wiesław Koman came across the publication of an identical find of a copper axe discovered in the village of Shcherbanivka in the Kyiv region, where the accompanying fragments of vascular pottery made it possible to attribute it to the Trypillia culture and date it to the late period of development of this culture, estimated at the 4th to 3rd millennium BC,” – reported the conservator.

Photo: Lublin Provincial Conservator of Monuments

The Lublin conservator says: “It is true that we have recorded finds of Trypillian culture pottery from Gródek, Hrubieszów commune, and the presence of this ax in nearby Matcz can be considered as confirmation of the settlement of people of this culture also in eastern Poland.”

The axe will soon be transferred to the collection of the Hrubieszów Museum, where it will undergo further research, reports the conservator.

The secret of the mummy in the Crystal coffin found in a garage in San Francisco

The secret of the mummy in the Crystal coffin found in a garage in San Francisco

The secret of the mummy in the Crystal coffin found in a garage in San Francisco

Mysterious mummies are a symbol of ancient lost times, which we often associate with Egypt and other ancient civilizations. Therefore, the discovery of a coffin made of crystal with the body of a girl come from under the floor of a garage in San Francisco is absolutely shocking.

In 2016, while remodeling an old garage in San Francisco, California, workers found a strange object that, upon closer inspection, turned out to be a child’s coffin with an extraordinary design.

Rusted bolts held a metal object together that resembled a large shaped casket, and it was only by unscrewing the bolts that it was possible to identify what it was. Bolts fixed a sheet of metal that covered two windows made of thick glass. Looking inside the box, the workers were taken aback — inside lay the body of a small blonde girl, almost untouched by decay.

The discovery of an old coffin containing the body of a child terrified the people of San Francisco and perplexed scientists. It took them a long time to figure out the mystery of an unusual burial.

Coffin inside lay the body of a blond girl dressed in a lace dress. Her hair was decorated with lavender petals, and on her chest lay a wreath in the form of a cross of blue bindweeds. In her hands, she held a large purple nightshade flower.

There were no details inside the coffin that would help identify the body.  The body was examined, described, and photographed, after which the experts drew up a protocol, placed the metal coffin containing the child in a wooden box, and… handed it over to the garage owner.

According to the law, if the corpse is not a criminal and the relatives are unknown, the burial duties are assigned to the owner of the land where the body was discovered.

During the paperwork, the police gave the deceased the name Eva. And the mistress of the garage, where they found the burial, named the child Miranda.

But how did the coffin with the little dead girl end up under the garage? This was not a surprising occurrence given that the structure stood on the grounds of Odd Fellows Cemetery, San Francisco’s largest cemetery.

When the rapidly growing metropolis came close to the extreme graves, a large city churchyard was closed for burials in 1890.

When the cemetery started to negatively impact the neighborhood over time, it was decided to close it down in 1923. Most of the remains were exhumed and buried in common graves, while some of the bodies were taken by relatives for reburial. The coffin with the girl was obviously forgotten in the confusion and remained in the ground, which was handed over to developers.

Tissue and hair samples were taken from the deceased girl for DNA analysis. Erica Karner was busy burying Eva-Miranda while the examination was taking place. The girl’s body began to decompose after the airtight coffin was opened. It was impossible to delay the burial.

Tissue analysis revealed that the baby’s mother was born in the British Isles. Even more interesting were the results of the hair study.

“Hair DNA analysis showed that the child had a protein deficiency and severe malnutrition.

And experts said that most likely this arose due to some kind of illness or due to the amount of medication that the child used,” the lawyer said.

Volunteers explored the city archives. They found a record of the burial of a two-year-old girl who died due to severe exhaustion. Her name is Edith Howard Cook. The child died in October 1876.

The parents’ names were Horatio Nelson and Edith Skaufi Cook. Scientists have even found living relatives of the “girl from the crystal coffin.”

Thus, volunteers and scientists were able to solve the mystery surrounding the mysterious burial and give the girl’s name back who passed away nearly 150 years ago.

Sleeping Beauty.

Parents often embalmed their dead children’s bodies centuries ago. The famous mummy of a child is kept in Palermo’s Capuchin catacombs. Rosalia Lombardo, the daughter of a Sicilian official, died of pneumonia in 1920. The girl’s body was so well preserved that she was nicknamed “Sleeping Beauty”

The marble head of God Apollo unearthed in an excavation at Philippi, Greece

The marble head of God Apollo unearthed in an excavation at Philippi, Greece

The marble head of God Apollo unearthed in an excavation at Philippi, Greece

The excavation, carried out by a group of students of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in the archaeological site of Philippi Kavala, brought to light important findings. Among other things, they discovered a rare head of Apollo dating back to the 2nd or early 3rd century AD.

 The statue dates back to the 2nd or early 3rd century AD and it probably adorned an ancient fountain.

Natalia Poulos, Professor of Byzantine Archaeology, led the excavation, which included fifteen students from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (11 undergraduates, 2 master’s, and 2 PhD candidates), Assistant Docent Anastasios Tantsis, and Professor Emeritus of Byzantine Archaeology Aristotle Mendzo.

Archaeologists say, this year the excavation continued east of the southern main road (decumanus) at the point where it meets the northern axis of the city (the so-called “Egnatia”). The continuation of the marble-paved road was revealed, on the surface of which a coin (bronze phyllis) of the emperor Leo VI (886-912) was found, which helps to determine the duration of the road’s use. At the point where the two streets converge, a widening (square) seems to have been formed, dominated by a richly decorated building.

Archaeologists say evidence from last year’s excavations leads them to assume it was a fountain.  The findings of this year’s research confirm this view and help them better understand its shape and function.

The research of 2022 brought to light part of the rich decoration of the fountain with the most impressive statue depicting Hercules as a boy with a young body.

The recent excavation (2023) revealed the head of another statue: it belongs to a figure of an ageneous man with a rich crown topped by a laurel leaf wreath. This beautiful head seems to belong to a statue of the god Apollo. Like the statue of Hercules, it dates from the 2nd or early 3rd century AD and probably adorned the fountain, which took its final form in the 8th to 9th centuries.

In classical Greek and Roman religion and mythology, Apollo is one of the Olympian gods. He is revered as a god of poetry, the Sun and light, healing and illness, music and dance, truth and prophecy, and archery, among other things.

Philip II, King of Macedon, founded the ancient city of Philippi in 356 BC on the site of the Thasian colony of Crenides near the Aegean Sea.

The archaeological site was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2016 for its outstanding Roman architecture, urban layout as a smaller reflection of Rome itself, and significance in early Christianity.

A New Study: The Great Sphinx of Giza may have been blown into shape by the wind

A New Study: The Great Sphinx of Giza may have been blown into shape by the wind

A New Study: The Great Sphinx of Giza may have been blown into shape by the wind

The theory, occasionally raised by others, that the Great Sphinx of Giza may have been a lion-shaped natural landform that the ancient Egyptians modified to form the stone-faced feline has been investigated.

A team of New York University scientists replicated conditions that existed 4,500 years ago—when the Sphinx was built—to show how wind moved against rock formations in possibly first shaping one of the most recognizable statues in the world.

Geologist Farouk El-Baz postulated in a 1981 Smithsonian Magazine article that, unlike the pyramids, the sphinx was not built entirely by the ancient Egyptians, but rather that the rock’s celestial facelift was applied by ancient stonemasons after desert winds sculpted the structure’s general shape.

Now, scientists from New York University have tested that theory by creating miniature, lion-like landforms from clay using fluid dynamics and discovered that it’s possible that the shape of the rock inspired Egyptians to create the sphinx. Their work has been accepted by the journal Physical Review Fluids.

“Our findings offer a possible ‘origin story’ for how Sphinx-like formations can come about from erosion,” explains Leif Ristroph, an associate professor at New York University’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences and the senior author of the study, which has been accepted for publication in the journal Physical Review Fluids. “Our laboratory experiments showed that surprisingly Sphinx-like shapes can, in fact, come from materials being eroded by fast flows.”

An illustration of the Sphinx weathering process.

The work centered on replicating yardangs—unusual rock formations found in deserts resulting from wind-blown dust and sand—and exploring how the Great Sphinx could have originated as a yardang that was subsequently detailed by humans into the form of the widely recognized statue.

To do so, Ristroph and his colleagues in NYU’s Applied Mathematics Laboratory took mounds of soft clay with harder, less erodible material embedded inside—mimicking the terrain in northeastern Egypt, where the Great Sphinx sits.

They then washed these formations with a fast-flowing stream of water—to replicate wind—that carved and reshaped them, eventually reaching a Sphinx-like formation.

The harder or more resistant material became the “head” of the lion and many other features—such as an undercut “neck,” “paws” laid out in front on the ground, and arched “back”—developed.

“Our results provide a simple origin theory for how Sphinx-like formations can come about from erosion,” observes Ristroph. “There are, in fact, yardangs in existence today that look like seated or lying animals, lending support to our conclusions.”

“The work may also be useful to geologists as it reveals factors that affect rock formations—namely, that they are not homogeneous or uniform in composition,”  he adds.

“The unexpected shapes come from how the flows are diverted around the harder or less-erodible parts.”

Archaeologists Uncover Upper Part Colossal Statue of Ramses II

Archaeologists Uncover Upper Part Colossal Statue of Ramses II

Archaeologists Uncover Upper Part Colossal Statue of Ramses II

The joint Egyptian-American Archaeological Mission unearthed the upper part of the colossal statue of Ramses II (Ramesses), the lower part of which was found in 1930, during excavations at Hermopolis Magna in Egypt’s Minya Governorate.

Ramesses the Great, also known as Ramesses II, was one of ancient Egypt’s most powerful and celebrated pharaohs. He reigned for around 66 years during the 19th dynasty of the New Kingdom period (circa 1279–1213 BCE).

Ramesses II is renowned for his military campaigns, architectural achievements, and the many monumental structures he commissioned, including the famous temples at Abu Simbel and the Ramesseum. He is often remembered as a great builder and a skilled diplomat.

Today, the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities announced that archaeologists had discovered the upper half of a full-body Ramses II statue dating back more than 3,200 years to his rule in Ancient Egypt’s 19th Dynasty.

Dr. Basem Jihad of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities and Dr. Yovona Trnka of the University of Colorado have been leading the exploration in the Minya governorate’s El-Ashmunein region (the ancient Hermopolis Magna, located northwest of the modern city of Mallawi and about 30 kilometers north of Amarna).

Archaeological studies showed that the 3.8-meter-high limestone bust, newly discovered in the southern Egyptian province of Minya, matches the lower part of a statue of the Egyptian pharaoh uncovered in 1930, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities Mostafa Waziri said in a statement.

Almost a hundred years after the lower part was found, they found the upper part of a statue of Ramesses II.

The relic depicts Ramses II wearing a double-crowned headdress with a royal cobra on it. Waziri stated that the top of the pillar on the back of the statue bears hieroglyphic inscriptions of titles honoring the king as well as texts indicating the statue’s construction date.

In advance of additional research and the ultimate reconstruction of the ensemble in its entirety, cleaning and conservation efforts on the statue have already commenced.

The whole statue combining the two parts will be seven meters high, according to the statement.

The “Horoscope” Scroll Found In the Judean Desert: A Glimpse Into the Mysterious Sect

The “Horoscope” Scroll Found In the Judean Desert: A Glimpse Into the Mysterious Sect

The “Horoscope” Scroll Found In the Judean Desert: A Glimpse Into the Mysterious Sect

One of the most interesting and mysterious scrolls discovered in the Judean Desert is a scroll called the “Horoscope.” This scroll shed light on the ancient practices of astrology and mysticism in a discovery that has intrigued historians and archaeologists alike.

The artifact offers a unique peek into the beliefs of a secretive sect that thrived thousands of years ago.

This ancient text reveals a worldview in which a person’s birth date not only indicates their zodiac sign but also determines their physical characteristics and the balance of light and darkness within their soul.

This unique composition was written in Hebrew in the reverse direction – from left to right- and contains signs in Greek, Aramaic, and ancient Hebrew script, as well as code.

“From the writing style, it seems the text was intended only for those who were supposed to know how to read it,” says Dr. Oren Ableman, a scroll researcher in the Judaean Desert Scrolls Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority. “The texts were apparently secret, comprehensible only to the leadership of the Scrolls sect.”

ANDREAS CELLARIUS, 1661: Astrological aspects, such as opposition, conjunction, etc., among the planets.

The scroll presents an intriguing theory in which a person’s physical attributes are determined by the degree of light or darkness in their soul. Each date on the calendar is associated with a particular amount of light or darkness, and thus, the amount of good or evil, or light or darkness, in the soul of the person born on that date.

The “Horoscope” scroll also hints at a rigorous initiation process for new members of the community, who identified themselves as “children of light.”

“It seems to have been a kind of manual for crafting a ‘horoscope,’ using one’s birth date to determine their personality and physical features. New members had to prove their suitability to join the ranks of the righteous. This, in effect, suggests that a person could believe in the sect’s beliefs and customs but still be rejected because they were not born on the right date, or their head shape did not fit,” says Dr. Ableman.

The discovery of the scroll has reignited interest in the Dead Sea Scrolls and ancient Judean Desert sects, serving as a reminder of humanity’s enduring quest for knowledge and the mystical.

Human remains found at prison sewer site are 4,500 years old in East Yorkshire

Human remains found at prison sewer site are 4,500 years old in East Yorkshire

Human remains found at prison sewer site are 4,500 years old in East Yorkshire

Archaeologists investigating the site of a new sewer to serve a jail being built at Full Sutton in East Yorkshire, England, have discovered a burial monument containing human remains thought to be about 4,500 years old.

Parts of a Roman road and a burnt mound were also discovered during a £5m project to build a 5.2km (3.2 miles) sewer near Full Sutton.

The site of the previously unknown Roman road is close to Stamford Bridge, flanked by drainage ditches which suggested to experts that it ran northwards towards the settlement of ‘Derventio Brigantium’ – close to modern-day Malton.

The first site was a small circular burial monument discovered in the vicinity of Full Sutton. Yorkshire Water said the small, circular monument contained a buried individual who was placed in a pit in a foetal or “crouched” position.

The archaeological team said these prehistoric traditions are seen in similar monuments, or “round barrows”, found around the UK and they believe that the Full Sutton example could be approximately 4,500 years old.

Gavin Robinson, from Ecus Archaeology, which undertook the investigation, said: “It was disturbed by later ploughing, but, considering the ground conditions, the associated human remains were surprisingly well-preserved.

The Neolithic or Bronze Age well could provide “important clues” into the history of the local environment.

“The local sandy geology is usually too acidic for human remains to survive, however, the grave had been backfilled with a mixture of burnt stone and charcoal from the adjacent ‘burnt mound’ spread, which seems to have helped the bones survive.”

No artifacts were discovered in the grave, which was constructed close to the third find – called a burnt mound.

The monument is estimated to be either from a Late Neolithic or Bronze Age date and was covered by a dome-shaped mound of earth or stone. Remnants of the burnt mound included a small earth oven and a deep pit that appeared to have been a well. Part of the wooden lining of the well was preserved by waterlogging as well as the lower fills which archaeologists took soil samples from.

Yorkshire Water said this could provide “valuable and rare data” into what the site was used for and possible preserved remains of plants and insects.

Ecus Archaeology, working on the site for Yorkshire Water, said the three sites give a glimpse into the prehistoric and early historic past of the area.