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Early Britons could have been cannibals, research released today reveals.
A human arm bone from a prehistoric cave in Devon was found to have seven cut marks made by a stone tool and had been fractured.
Scientists who examined the bone believe the marks on the 9,000-year-old bone show flesh was removed from it, or that dismemberment took place shortly after death.
Click to view image: '4bdde6908998-2.jpg' Dr Rick Schulting
Dr Rick Schulting, of the School of Archaeology at Oxford University, said: 'There are intentional cut marks on there, and it seems the bone has been intentionally split.
'These two together can raise the possibility of cannibalism. The location of the fracture, right at the elbow, is where the cut would be made if dismemberment had taken place.'
The fact the markings are all in the same place indicate they were made to remove muscle attachments from the bone while it was still 'fresh', Dr Schulting said.
He added that had the remains come from an animal, he would have assumed the bone had been fractured to remove the marrow, which was highly prized by humans in the Mesolithic period.
The bone fragment, from Kent's Cavern, is currently being kept at Torquay Museum. It was shown to Dr Schulting by curator Barry Chandler, who noticed the parallel cut marks on it.
The whereabouts of the rest of the adult human's body are unknown.
Dr Schulting said cannibalism was just one possibility, and that the markings could have been part of a ritualistic burial process.
He added: 'These cuts may have been made to help the body decompose more quickly and speed up the process of joining the ancestors.
'Finds like this highlight the complexity of mortuary practices in the Mesolithic period, many thousands of years before the appearance of farming in the Neolithic period, which is more usually associated with complex funerary behaviour.'
Dr Schulting said the marks and the fracture were rare in British prehistory, and that the find was 'particularly interesting' for this reason.
'This may only be a single bone, but it has already shown us something about mortuary practices, and the possibility of cannibalism,' he added.
The bone from Kent's Cavern was discovered by early archaeologist and geologist William Pengelly in 1866. It is hoped more remains found at the cave can now be analysed to look for further evidence of cannibalism.
The bones are on display at the Ancestors exhibition at Torquay Museum until September 6.
Archaeologists at Gough's Cave in Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, believe they may also have found evidence of cannibalism after studying human remains from the preceding Upper Palaeolithic period discovered there.
Tags: Early, Britons, cannibal, cannibals, bone, research, prehistoric, cave, Devon, Scientists, dismemberment, School, of, Archaeology, Oxford, University, Torquay, Museum, Mesolithic, Dr, Rick, Schulting
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