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don’t have to go very far to find the signs of cannibalism. , are Not something exotic. We have, as they say, just around the corner. In Atapuerca , the sierra of Burgos, came the most ancient known. About 800,000 years ago, an ancestor that probably we share with the neanderthals, known as Homo antecessor, devoured a good number of their own kind, the most children of a young age, as deduced from the marks found in the bones. The reasons for the killing remain a mystery. In the beginning, it was felt that it was a cultural practice, even though other theories point to rivalries between groups for control of the territory. Chimpanzees behave in a similar way.

neanderthals , that intelligent species that lived in Europe during several generations before they disappeared some 40,000 years ago, they also tested the flesh of their congeners. One of the latest evidences of this practice has been discovered in the caves of Goyet, in what is now belgian territory, where they appeared human bones fractured to extract the marrow. Among them, those of a toddler and a newborn. Earlier he had detected some cases of cannibalism in populations of neanderthals established in Asturias (El Sidrón), Granada (Zafarraya) and in France (Moula-Guercy and Les Pradelles).

Such stories put the willies to anyone, there’s no doubt, but perhaps their protagonists were not (always) as bloodthirsty as it might seem. At least, not in the way that usually comes to mind when you mentioned the cannibalism and the film, with characters such as Hannibal, played by Anthony Hopkins in the successful film “The silence of the lambs” (1991), has helped to popularize.

secondary Burial

Sang-Hee Lee, paleoantropóloga specializing in human evolution and professor at the University of California, explains in his latest book, “don’t be neanderthal! And other stories about human evolution” (Debate), that the black legend about cannibalism human has its nuances. And he underlines: “In fact, there is evidence of a behavior cannibal old, but we can not call cannibals who behaved so “.

To begin with, the author explains that the human remains with brands do not necessarily imply that their owners were devoured, since the signals may come from other rituals much more innocent. The cave of Krapina, in Croatia, is famous for the burials neanderthals of young women and children remains fragmented and with a few cuts peculiar. Paleoanthropologists interpreted quickly as a proof of cannibalism, but there is an alternative explanation: the possibility of a “secondary burial”. This is a burial ritual in which the dead is exhumed to clean the bones and then returned to bury. In such cases, marks from the cleaning and detailed and the second burial. The marks seen in Kaprina were very similar to those found in other places confirmed of secondary burials. To be certain, there was no cannibalism.

A ritual of love

Sang-Hee Lee also points out that the cannibalism could be an eccentric way to present respect and affection to the dead, as did the fore of Papua New Guinea. To the mid-TWENTIETH century, it became known that these people ate partially to their dead relatives (brain and intestines included) as a way to continue in the world of the living. On other occasions, says the scientific, the ingestion of human flesh can be part of a revenge (as it seems happened in Atapuerca), or be due to a compelling need to circumstances extremely rigorous where others are missing the resources to feed themselves, as it is not unusual that occurred during the Ice Age in the Pleistocene. Perhaps there was more to remedy the rugby players from uruguay whose plane crashed in the Andes in 1972, which eat the bodies of their colleagues killed in order to survive? Does anyone I would call them cannibals? It is clear that not.

The author recalls that whether this practice is motivated by love or by hatred, one thing is clear about the cannibalism among human : “there is no human population that eat others of the same species as part of a regular diet. In other words, eating another human will never form part of the repertoire of normal behaviours,” he explains. In his opinion, the fossils of homininos of the past demand from us an interpretation of the most imaginative and creative: could have been eaten by their peers to remember them, to take revenge during the war, or to survive. Without a doubt, new findings may shed light on one of the most disturbing of human evolution.