Skull-cups and ritual cannibalism at Gough’s cave 14,700 years ago
Analysis of ancient cadavers recovered at a famous archaeological site confirm the existence of a sophisticated culture of butchering and carving human remains, according to a team of scientists from the Natural History Museum, University College London, and a number of Spanish universities.
Gough’s Cave in Somerset (south west England) was thought to have given up all its secrets when excavations ended in 1992, yet research on human bones from the site has continued in the decades since. After its discovery in the 1880s, the site was developed as a show cave and largely emptied of sediment, at times with minimal archaeological supervision. The excavations uncovered intensively-processed human bones intermingled with abundant butchered large mammal remains and a diverse range of flint, bone, antler and ivory artefacts.
New radiocarbon techniques have revealed remains were deposited over a very short period of time, possibly during a series of seasonal occupations, about 14,700 years ago.
The presence of human tooth marks on many of the bones provides incontrovertible evidence for cannibalism, the team found. The new evidence from Gough’s Cave suggests that cannibalism was part of a customary mortuary practice that combined intensive processing and consumption of the bodies with the ritual use of skull-cups.
Read more of this story at Past Horizons/ Gough’s cave
Inside Gough’s Cave