A Recent Analysis Of Ancient Human Remains From Northern Europe Suggests That Cannablism Was Once A More Common Funerary Practice Than We Previously Realized

During their study, Bello and Marsh examined 59 sites attributed to both Magdalenian and Epigravettian cultures.

They discovered signs of burial customs at 25 of these sites. Interestingly, at 10 sites, there appeared to be a practice of burying the dead and then leaving them undisturbed.

However, at 13 of the locations, human bones displayed traces of having been altered after death— showing scoring and bite marks consistent with the processes of dismemberment, consumption, and the subsequent repurposing of the bones into tools and containers, including skull cups or bowls.

At the final two sites, there was evidence indicating a combination of both cannibalistic and burial practices.

What stood out to the team was that all signs of cannibalism were uncovered at sites associated with the Magdalenian culture.

“The fact that we find cannibalism being practiced often on multiple occasions 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,” Marsh said.

The researchers also conducted genetic tests on bones linked with these burial customs. They determined that the group who practiced burial, the Epigravettians, had a different genetic makeup from the group that engaged in cannibalism, the Magdalenians.

The findings also indicate that the Epigravettian culture endured for several thousand years longer than the Magdalenian culture did, and over time, burial became the prevailing method for managing the deceased.

This evidence implies that instead of the two cultures blending and adopting a shared set of cultural practices, the Epigravettians may have actually just replaced the Magdalenians.

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

“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.”

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