Why Did Ancient Humans Engage in Cannibalistic Rituals?

pile of human skulls

Researchers have found plenty of proof suggesting that prehistoric humans liked to engage in cannibalistic rituals. However, as Hannibal Lecter could surely attest, human flesh is not as nutritious as game, providing few calories and proteins. So why did the ancient humans engage in cannibalistic rituals?

There’s No Better Way to Assert Dominance

According to a study published on Thursday in Nature, paleolithic humans were not as packed with nutrients as mammoths or antelopes. This made the researchers question the reason why so many paleolithic humans, especially males, opted to munch on other humans rather than a more protein-packed mammoth. It surely wasn’t because their peers were easier to hunt.

Seeing as an average male adult’s muscles only have about 650 calories and a beaver or a boar packed almost three times as much, it’s clear that the early humans did not eat each other for survival purposes. Instead, researchers believe that the paleolithic humans ate their opponents as a way to assert dominance.

Imagine a tribe confrontation. Once one side defeated the other, the women and children would have probably been appropriated by the winners. But what about the fighting male rivals? They had to be made an example of, their heads decorating the abodes of the winners while their flesh was consumed in ritualistic gatherings meant to seal the winners’ position.

The Homo antecessor Ate the Brains of their Enemies

One of the most gruesome examples of cannibalism can be found in Spain at the Gran Dolina cave site. Among the remains of sheep, bison, and deer, researchers discovered the bones of 11 children and adolescents. All the human remains presented clear evidence of cannibalism.

Apart from signs that pointed to the fact that the Homo antecessors that lived in the caves stripped the meat from the bones of the children, the scientists also found solid proof indicating that the early humans also ate the brains of their prey.

Seeing as there were also plenty of animal remains in the caves, researchers concluded that the children were eaten during a ritual. As to the why, there are multiple theories. The victims could have been trespassers from another tribe. Or human flesh may have been tastier than game. We will never know for sure why prehistoric humans preferred the occasional human steak.

Image Source: Wikipedia


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