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Etched human bones reveal evidence of prehistoric cannibal rituals

Scientists have uncovered a set of prehistoric human remains with designs etched into the bones. Researchers concluded that these cannibals not only ate their fellow humans for survival, but for ritual purposes, too.

A carved bone found in a cave in southern England shows that our prehistoric ancestors ate fellow humans and performed an elaborate burial ritual with the remains, scientists said in a paper published on Wednesday.

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Scientists from Britain's Natural History Museum and University College London analyzed a human forearm bone found at a site called Gough's Cave in Somerset, southern England, that is believed to be from Britain's Paleolithic period in the early Stone Age.

The bone (pictured above) appeared to have been disarticulated, filleted, chewed and engraved with a zigzag design before being broken to draw out the bone marrow.

Their comparisons with other engraved artifacts from the same site in England "suggest that these modifications are the result of intentional engraving," the scientists said in their paper.

Read more: Early Neolithic mass grave reveals new evidence of a violent age in Central Europe

Silvia Bello, a human origins researcher with the Natural History Museum and the lead author on the study, said the markings are similar to design patterns found in other archaeological dig sites around Europe.

"However, what is exceptional in this case is the choice of raw material - human bone - and the cannibalistic context in which it was produced," she said.

"The engraving was a purposeful component of the cannibalistic practice, rich in symbolic connotations."

Turning bones into bowls

Despite the perhaps brutal methods of dismemberment, scientists did not find any evidence the prehistoric people were killed for their meat.

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According to a Natural History Museum article on the findings, there was no indication that the humans whose bones were used in the rituals were violently killed. It is likely that they died of natural causes.

Researchers are still uncertain, however, as to why these prehistoric people carried out such rituals.

Paleontologists previously found evidence of human cannibalistic behavior at Gough's Cave in the form of human skulls that had been purposefully chipped away to make bowls, or "skull cups."

Gough's Cave was discovered in the 1880s and was excavated for decades until 1992.

Archaeological digs at the site revealed several human bones among the butchered remains of large mammals, including reindeer.

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