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Cannibals carved art into human bones, scientists reveal

PUBLISHED: 08:00 12 August 2017

The engraved bones which were discovered in Gough's Cave. Picture: The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London 2017.

The engraved bones which were discovered in Gough's Cave. Picture: The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London 2017.

The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London 2017

‘Breakthrough’ findings about cannibalistic burials in Somerset have been made by researchers at the Natural History Museum London (NHM).

The engraved bones which were discovered in Gough's Cave. Picture: The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London 2017. The engraved bones which were discovered in Gough's Cave. Picture: The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London 2017.

The remains of human skeletons, which were found in Cheddar Gorge’s Gough’s Cave, have been critically analysed by researchers at the museum, with the help of the University College London.

Studies on the bones, which were discovered between 1880 and 1992, previously confirmed cannibalistic behaviour and alterations, such as human skulls being made into bowls.

But researchers at the NHM have now confirmed additional engravings on the 15,000 year old bones were done on purpose as part of a ritual

Scientists found zig-zag lines carved into the bones, which had previously been filleted, chewed and disarticulated.

The engraved bones which were discovered in Gough's Cave. Picture: The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London 2017. The engraved bones which were discovered in Gough's Cave. Picture: The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London 2017.

MORE: Evidence of cannibalistic culture found in Cheddar caves.

A NHM spokesman said the incisions were ‘undoubtedly’ purposeful and were purely for ‘artistic or symbolic’ purposes.

They said: “While scientists can only speculate about the context of these engravings, they believe it could have been a ‘story-tale’ indicative of the individual, events from their life and the way they died, or as marking a special part of a ceremony.

“Thus the engraving was part of a cannibalistic ritual, meaning the process was not just about treating the dead person as food.”

The engraved bones which were discovered in Gough's Cave. Picture: The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London 2017. The engraved bones which were discovered in Gough's Cave. Picture: The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London 2017.

Museum researcher Silvia Bello, described the ‘cannibalistic context’ as ‘exceptional’.

She added: “Although in previous analyses we have been able to suggest cannibalism at Gough’s Cave was practiced as a symbolic ritual, this study provides the strongest evidence yet.”

Cheddar Gorge and Caves, which is owned by leisure firm Longleat, is also the home of the Cheddar Man – Britain’s oldest complete skeleton.

The gorge’s Chloe Griffin said: “We are really excited about the recent findings by the team at the Natural History Museum, not only because it provides further unequivocal evidence to the continuously growing findings of cannibalism in the cave, but also because the findings have been a breakthrough.

“Findings of human bones used as raw material to produce utilitarian or symbolic tools in Palaeolithic Europe are extremely rare.”

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