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Early man was a cannibal but the reasons are unclear

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From Laura Gegel at LiveScience:

Human cannibals likely took a big bite out of their fellow humans about 10,000 years ago, according to a study that examined prehistoric bones with scratch and bite marks on them.

The bones, discovered in the Santa Maria Caves (Coves de Santa Maria) in Alicante, Spain, may be the first instance of cannibalism in the western European Mediterranean region dating to the Mesolithic period, the researchers said. (The Mesolithic period last from about 10,200 to 8,000 years ago on the Iberian Peninsula. “Mesolithic” means middle stone, and it’s between the Paleolithic, or old stone, and Neolithic, or new stone, periods.)

However, it’s unclear if this cannibalism was performed because of hunger or rather some kind of ritual. For instance, these marks could have resulted from violence, war, funeral rituals or supernatural beliefs, the researchers said. More.

Yes, there is considerable evidence that ancient man was a cannibal; the practice has persisted into modern times. But early man probably did not have the neighbour over for dinner just for the sake of staying alive. Eating another human being would likely mean ingesting qualities of that person as well. Other reasons include:

The Wari tribe, deep in the heart of the Amazon practiced cannibalism when they were discovered in 1950’s. Their logic was that they eat their dear ones when they die as it is more humane to be in the warm inside of a loved one than the cold earth.

Remember that the next time a tenured evolutionary psychology prof explains to you the “adaptive value” of cannibalism. Reasons were all over the map. Some reasons might show adaptive value but many were probably the outcome of beliefs that may or may not have been adaptive.

See also: Cannibalism love: We do get some odd-seeming messages from science these days…

For Darwin Day: Cannibalism, like suicide, is adaptive

Incontrovertible evidence of cannibalism 15 kya


The Science Fictions series at your fingertips: Human evolution

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