Forget about Cheddar cheese here’s the spooky 14,700 Year History Of Cheddar Gorge Cannibals.
After fascinating discovery of Cheddar Gorge bones, why were so many ancient Britons cannibals?
With a bloodcurdling shriek, the shaman raised his stone dagger high above his head before plunging it into the chest of his young female victim.
The pretty 17-year-old had been chosen by lot. To die in this manner was, after all, an honour, a way of winning the favour of the gods and guaranteeing a period of plenty for her friends and family.
Her mind was clouded by a cocktail of hemlock and hallucinatory herbs prepared by the tribe’s elder womenfolk, and her limbs hung limp from her body as she was laid out over the sacred rock.
Yet she had not gone to her death quietly — for while the herbal concoction was soporific, it could not soothe the agony of ritual death.
As the knife, fashioned from the naturally occurring volcanic glass obsidian, cut through flesh and bone, her piercing cries set the scraggy village dogs laying in the warmth of the fire howling — a cacophony soon echoed by the wolves prowling the limestone crags 400ft above the encampment.
Now three men, including the victim’s brother, stepped forward, their faces ashen-white. The body of the girl was laid down and the men took their places around her bloody corpse. And then slowly, diligently, they began butchering her. Even her bones were cracked open to reveal the nutritious marrow.
Her head was removed and the flesh was carved meticulously off the skull and jawbone. It was then boiled and the last scraps of meat scraped off. Finally, the skull was handed to one of the oldest men in the tribe, a skilled craftsman whose fine flint and obsidian knives would turn it into a crude but serviceable bowl.
This was added to the tribe’s inventory of sacred utensils, to be used on only the most sacred of occasions, such as the drinking of their enemies’ blood by the strongest warriors.
Something very like this happened not on a remote Pacific Island or in the Highlands of New Guinea, but in a quiet part of southern England.
Of course, we can never know for certain exactly what took place in Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, 14,700 years ago.
But, astonishingly, the above account accords with all the archaeological facts — evidence that shows cannibalism was once routine in ancient Britain among the first peoples to colonise this land after the deep freeze of the Ice Age.
Last week, it was revealed that the world’s oldest-known human skull cups were abandoned in a cave in Cheddar Gorge around 12,700BC.
The three skull cups were among a collection of animal and human bones excavated from Gough’s Cave in the Eighties bearing patterns of cut marks that pointed to cannibalism.
But only now have new microscopic techniques shown that the skulls bear tell-tale minute scrape-marks identical to those found on animal bones butchered for their flesh and marrow.
The skull cups may have been fashioned from the heads of vanquished enemies and used as trophies, or they could have been made as part of a sacrificial ritual.
It is likely that this gruesome crockery was used for drinking water, fermented alcoholic drinks or even human blood.
Dr Silvia Bello, who has spearheaded the investigation together with human origins Professor Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London, says the new research shows that these ancient Britons were ‘great anatomists’. In other words, they were expert at butchering each other.
Just who these people were and how they lived is still mostly a mystery.
For tens of thousands of years before they came here, the British Isles had been covered by ice, a mile deep in places, the seas frozen all year round. Human life would have been impossible — there was simply nothing to eat.
Then, around 15,000 years ago, the weather warmed and the ice began to melt.
Nomadic hunter-gatherers began to recolonise these islands. Since so much water was still locked up in ice, the sea levels were low and you could actually walk to Britain from Spain and France.
We know these people were modern humans, Homo Sapiens like you and me. They were tall, fit and well-built. They were accomplished artists — and almost certainly had religion.
These were probably the same people who left behind them the cave paintings in Dordogne, France.
Mysterious carved bone objects have been found in Cheddar, which experts believe may have been basic counting tools to record the passing of time or even the number of sacrificial victims.
We also know what these people ate: horses, deer, antelope, fish, fruit, berries and, it seems, each other. We know, from the state of their skeletons, that they had healthy, protein-rich diets, and some lived to a ripe old age.
With low population densities, infectious diseases were rare.
They were hunter-gatherers, not farmers, and we know that extensive trade networks rapidly opened up across a thawing Europe, with amber jewellery from the Baltic making its way to Britain. ‘Times were good,’ says Prof Stringer.
We can’t know with any certainty what these people thought and believed, but we can at least guess at how they spoke.
‘There is some evidence that something like the Basque language goes back to this time,’ says Prof Stringer.
The Basque people, who live in south-west France and northern Spain, speak a unique language unrelated to any of the other Indo-European tongues.
Many archaeologists believe the Basques, who are also genetically distinct, may be the descendents of these most ancient Europeans.
It is even possible that some modern Basque words, such as ura (water) and ibai (river) may have been spoken by, or at least intelligible to, the people of ancient Somerset.
Since the first human remains were found in Gough’s Cave in the Twenties, marks on the bones, visible even to the naked eye, have suggested they were butchered rather than simply buried and left to rot.
Now the evidence of cannibalism seems conclusive.
So why exactly were they eating people? The truth, archaeologists believe, is chilling — it seems a taste for human flesh may have long been a defining characteristic of our species.
‘It does seem to be a long-term behaviour that we see in humans,’ says Professor Stringer.
We also know that this warm Eden was short-lived. Two thousand years later, around 10,700BC, the cold returned as rapidly as the warmth before it. This catastrophic event, called the ‘Big Freeze’ by geologists, saw temperatures plummet by 15C in less than two years — perhaps the most severe episode of climate change in the Earth’s 4.5 billion-year history.
The people of Britain would have seen their world change. The forests dying in a single winter, their quarry vanishing, the seas freezing over.
The cannibals of Cheddar would have died or been forced to beat a hasty retreat back to France and Spain.
The Big Freeze lasted a thousand years and, once again, Britain was deserted, the Mendip hills and Cheddar Gorge becoming icy tundra. Then, finally, the ice retreated for good.
People flooded back into Britain and, as temperatures and sea levels continued to rise, our land finally became an island 7,000 years ago. These people became farmers rather than hunter-gatherers, and left their marks on the landscape — the henges and barrows of Ancient Britain. But the old ways never entirely died out, it seems.
There were reports of cannibalism in Britain during Roman times, and even into the Middle Ages and later.
Eating people may be the ultimate taboo, but a taste for human flesh is something we have found it very hard to lose.
Source: Daily Mail