First Europeans were cannibals: archaeologists
Posted Wed Jul 1, 2009 5:32pm AEST
Updated Wed Jul 1, 2009 5:31pm AEST
The remains of the "first Europeans" discovered at an archaeological site in northern Spain have revealed that the prehistoric men were cannibals, who particularly liked the flesh of children.
"We know that they practised cannibalism," said Jose Maria Bermudez de Castro, a co-director of the Atapuerca project, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A study of the remains revealed that they turned to cannibalism to feed themselves and not as part of a ritual, that they ate their rivals after killing them, mostly children and adolescents.
"It is the first well-documented case of cannibalism in the history of humanity, which does not mean that it is the oldest," he said.
The remains discovered in the caves "appeared scattered, broken, fragmented, mixed with other animals such as horses, deer, rhinoceroses, all kinds of animals caught in hunting" and eaten by humans, he said.
"This gives us an idea of cannibalism as a type gastronomy, and not as a ritual."
The Atapuerca caves were first discovered in the late 19th century, when a tunnel was blasted through the mountain for a railway line.
"But at the time in Spain, there was not enough scientific knowledge to begin research," said another co-director, Eudald Carbonell.
The first excavations did not take place until 1978, then "in 1984, we found 150 human remains".
In 1992, they found a complete intact skeleton, and two years later, they discovered remains dating back more than 800,000 years.