A carved human bone from an archaeological dig in the U.K. is offering new insight into the grisly culture of prehistoric cannibals.
The forearm bone discovered at Gough’s Cave in Somerset, western England, had been filleted, then marked with bizarre zig-zag pattern before being broken open to extract the bone marrow, scientists say.
The bone was excavated in 1987 by a team led by paleontologists from the Natural History Museum in London. New analysis has revealed the artifact’s gruesome secrets.
Experts describe the radius bone’s “cut marks, percussion damage and human tooth marks, indicative of cannibalism, as well as a set of unusual zig-zagging incisions,” in a paper published in the journal Plos One.
The human remains date from around 14,700 years ago, when the cave was occupied by the Ice Age Britons, according to the Natural History Museum in London. During their initial excavation of the site, researchers found human bones mixed with butchered animal remains and flint, bone and ivory artifacts.
“The sequence of modifications performed on this bone suggests that the engraving was a purposeful component of the cannibalistic practice, rich in symbolic connotations,” explained Dr. Silvia Bello, researcher in human origins at the Museum and lead author of the study, in a statement.