Cannibalistic Europeans likely feasted on their deceased loved ones at funerals instead of burying them, according to a new study.
Scientists now believe that cannibalism was widespread among Magdalenian Upper Palaeolithic people, who lived across Europe between 11,000 and 17,000 years ago, according to the study published in Quaternary Science Reviews.
The study’s researchers analyzed funerary practices at 25 Magdalenians burial sites across France, Germany, Spain, Russia, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Portugal. Researchers found that early humans used skulls for cups and removed bone marrow to obtain nutrients. They also left chew marks on the bones of their deceased.
In some cases, the ancient humans appeared to have combined the human remains with animal remains, per the study.
Scientists had previously known of a few instances of cannibalism among this group, like those at Gough’s Cave, where skull cups and other human bones were found, but had not known until now just how commonplace the practice was.
The researchers wrote that it is “undeniable that the frequency of cannibalistic cases among Magdalenian sites exceeds any incidence of this behaviour among earlier or later hominin groups, and suggests that mortuary cannibalism was a method Magdalenian people used to dispose of their deceased.”
Dr. Silvia Bello, a paleoanthropologist and co-author of the study, said in a press release that the cannibalistic behavior was “not simply practiced out of necessity,” but rather as a “funerary practice.”
Study co-author Dr. William Marsh added that their findings offered a contextualization of Gough’s Cave.
“During the terminal time period of the Palaeolithic, you actually see a turnover in both genetic ancestry and funerary behaviour, indicative of population replacement as Epigravettian groups migrated northwards,” Marsh said in the release. “We believe that the change in funerary behaviour identified here is an example of demic diffusion where essentially one population comes in and replaces another population and that brings about a change in behaviour.”
The authors of the study did not immediately respond for request for comment from Insider.