Human heads were sacrificed for their flesh and collected ritually in the Bronze Age in Europe
Human heads were killed and ritually extracted, to leave bowl-shaped remains called ‘skull cups’, as late as in the Bronze Age in Europe, 4,000 years ago.
An international team of researchers found evidence that the skulls were systematically and consistently processed for a total of about 15,000 years.
It is not clear exactly what the skull cups were made for, but the tool marks that remain on their surfaces suggest that they were worked for both their meat and another purpose.
Experts have previously suggested that skull glasses may have been used as containers or drinking glasses, such as war trophies or even masks or decorative objects.
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Human heads were systematically killed and ritually extracted, leaving bowl-shaped remains called ‘skull cups’, as late as in the Bronze Age in Europe, according to a study
The evolutionary anthropologist Francesc Marginedas of the University of Tarragona Rovira and Virgili in Spain and his colleagues studied skull glasses from three ancient sites: the Gough Cave in the United Kingdom, Herxheim in Germany and the El Mirador Cave in Spain.
They compared these with human skulls, which had not been found in the form of a bowl, of the Fontbrégoua cave in France and Gran Dolina in Spain.
The skull cups date from the Upper Paleolithic, about 20,000 years ago, at the bronze age, about 4,000 years ago.
The ritual use of human skulls has already been documented in several archeological sites of different chronologies throughout the world.
It is believed that such practices are related to the creation of war trophies, masks, decorative elements and prints and what is known as ‘skull glasses’.
Experts think that some ancient societies even believed that human skulls possessed a vital force or certain powers, and therefore were collected after violent confrontations as symbols of authority and superiority.
By examining the tool marks inside the skulls from their study sites, the team was able to recognize possible evidence of ceremonial practices.
It is known that skulls treated with rituals usually present signs in the form of cut marks, produced by stone tools or metal knives, which are left behind during the scalp extraction process.
Such practices, for example, are archaeologically well documented among American Paleoindians, who left skulls with circular arrangements carved around the head.
Based on such previous examples, the researchers developed a method to statistically analyze whether the marks found in the skulls of the study sites were created as part of some form of equally consistent processing technique.
The team discovered that there is a specific pattern formed by systematic treatments of the skull that were carried out in the same way for almost 15,000 years.
By examining the tool marks inside the skulls from their study sites, the team was able to recognize possible evidence of ceremonial practices. In the picture, marks on a skull found in Gough’s Cave, in the United Kingdom. The cut marks are shown in blue, while the orange and green colorations represent areas of muscle fixation.
An international team of researchers led by the evolutionary anthropologist Francesc Marginedas of the University of Tarragona Rovira and Virgili, in the photo, found evidence that the skulls were consistently processed for a total of about 15,000 years.
The marks appear to have been left behind, as the skulls were stripped of their scalp and flesh and cleaned thoroughly.
The same patterns were found in skulls from all study sites, with the exception of the remains of the predecessor Homo de Gran Dolina.
The researchers believe that the systematic work of human skulls began with the removal of the scalp and continued with the excision of muscle tissue.
The skulls were broken to preserve the thickest part of the cranial vault.
The researchers studied skull glasses from three ancient sites: Gough’s Cave in the United Kingdom, Herxheim in Germany and El Mirador Cave in Spain. They compared these with human skulls, which had not been made in the form of a bowl, of the Fontbrégoua cave in France and the Gran Dolina in Spain
While many of the cuts suggest a cannibalistic carnage process, other brands found in each of the skulls suggest a final treatment that served a different intention.
However, it is not clear exactly what the processed skulls were used once they were stripped of their meat.
However, the researchers concluded, “the preparation of skull glasses can be related to a ritual treatment of human heads in these archaeological contexts.”
The full findings of the study were published in the Archaeological Science Magazine.
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE BRONZE AGE IN BRITAIN?
The Bronze Age in Britain began around the year 2,000 BC. C. and lasted almost 1,500 years.
It was a time when sophisticated bronze tools, pots and weapons were brought from continental Europe.
The skulls discovered from this period are very different from the Stone Age skulls, suggesting that this period of migration brought new ideas and new blood from abroad.
Bronze is made of 10 percent tin and 90 percent copper, both in abundance at that time.
Crete seems to be a center of expansion for the bronze trade in Europe and weapons first came from the Mycenaeans in southern Russia.
It is widely believed that bronze first came to Britain with the Beakers who lived about 4,500 years ago in temperate areas of Europe.
They received their name from their distinctive bell-shaped beakers, decorated in horizontal areas with finely serrated seals.
Decorated pots are almost ubiquitous throughout Europe, and could have been used as drinking glasses or ceremonial urns.
It is believed to be native to Spain, the people of the beakers soon spread through central and western Europe in their search for metals.
Textile production was also underway at that time and people wore wrap skirts, tunics and capes. The men were generally well shaved and had long hair.
The dead were cremated or buried in small cemeteries near the settlements.
This period was followed by the Iron Age, which began around 650 BC and ended around 43 AD.