Cavemen used a human skull as a cup as well as repurposing their bones into tools, a new study has revealed.
Archaeologists made the grisly discovery whilst probing deposits over thousands of years in a Neolithic cave near Cordoba in Spain.
They found a fibia and shin bone that looked as if they had been modified to become tools as well as the skull that had been turned into a cup.
Whether these items were for everyday use or had a higher ceremonial purpose is unclear.
A team from the Universities of Cordoba and Bern in Switzerland produced the study in the journal Plos One documenting post-mortem bone modifications not linked to consumption.
It is not unusual to find bones in caves that have been marked with cuts showing the signs of human consumption.
However, the latest research shows how early human societies made actual use of human bones.
The team analyzed more than 400 remains of both adults and children in the Cueva de los Mármoles cave in Priego de Córdoba.
Using an electron microscope, they observed that many of the marks on some bones are compatible with a cleaning process to use the bone remains as tools and not for consumption.
They believe the marks don’t suggest that they were trying to obtain soft parts from them to eat.
Researchers thought they evidence of a more careful cleaning process consistent with their use as tools.
They found a fibula with a pointed end, a modified shin and a skull.
Carbon-14 dating of 12 remains has indicated three periods of funerary use in the cave, from in 3800 BC, 2500 BC and around 1,300 or 1,400 BC or the Bronze Age.
The first of these periods, the Neolithic, coincides with a spread in the use of megalithic tombs designed for collective burials.
This, together with the fact that the marks on the bones do not seem to be for consumption, reinforces the idea that the human remains were fashioned to be used as tools at a given time.
The University of Cordoba’s Dr. Rafael Martínez Sánchez said: “Anthropic traces on the remains, fresh fractures, marrow canal modifications, and scraping marks, hint at their intentional fragmentation, cleaning from residual soft tissues, and in some cases reutilisation.”
And talking of the skull cup, he added: “The repeated pattern, distribution on the cranial vault, and shallow depth of the scraping marks on the ‘skull cup’ indicate an attempt to clean the cranium from residual soft tissues by means of repeated scrapings and the application of a relatively low force.”
He concludes: “It seems that there was the idea of grouping the dead in the same place, cleaning the remains, and using the bones as instruments, perhaps related to some type of ritual performed inside the cavity.”
It seems that the bones were used for ritual and cultural aspects after they were deposited and that these ways of thinking apparently spanned a great period of time, from the end of the Neolithic to the Bronze Age,
The fact that the cave was still being used in the Bronze Age is also significant, researchers believe.
Dr. Sanchez added: “This is a time in which we did not expect to find that bodies were still deposited in this cavity.
“These data align with those from other cave contexts from the same geographic region, suggesting the presence, especially during the Neolithic period, of shared ideologies centered on the human body.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
“What’s the latest with Florida Man?”
Get news, handpicked just for you, in your box.