View Full Version : Germany's Stone Age Cannibalism

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009, 12:26 AM
Germany’s stone age cannibalism

Tens of thousands of ancient human bones found in Germany suggest that victims were not killed just to satisfy hunger, writes Pierre Le Hir in Le Monde.

The German city of Speyer, in Rheinland-Palatinate, well known for its *Romanesque cathedral, also boasts some much more macabre relics. A collection of skulls, shin bones and vertebrae might not seem unusual in an archaeology museum, but these particular remains are special. They all show signs of having been cut, scraped or broken, indicating that their owners were cannibalised.

“Look at these grooves, running from the base of the nose to the back of the neck, or here on the temples,” says Andrea Zeeb-Lanz, the regional head of archaeology, holding up a skull. “The grooves show, beyond all possible doubt, that the flesh was torn off.” It takes good eyesight to catch the fine parallel incisions made by the cutting edge of the flint stone. She then shows me a piece of thigh-bone the end of which has been crushed. Judging by the state of the bone tissue, it was smashed shortly after the victim was killed.

All these human remains were found at the stone-age site at Herxheim, near Speyer. About 7,000 years ago farmers, who grew wheat and barley, raised pigs, sheep and cattle, settled here, building a village of four to 12 houses, the post holes of which have survived. At the time the first farmer-stockherders were moving into Europe, supplanting their hunter-gatherer predecessors. The Herxheim settlers came from the north (between 5,400 and 4,950BC) and belonged to the Linear Pottery culture.

Two lines of ditches were dug around the settlement. They can’t have been defensive because they weren’t continuous. Nor were they intended for use as an ossuary, as the Linear Pottery people generally buried or burned their dead. However, during a rescue dig just before the area was developed as an industrial estate, in some of the ditches archaeologists uncovered tens of thousands of *human bones.

During the first series of excavations, at the end of the 1990s, the numerous injuries visible on the skeletons were taken as evidence that the victims had been massacred. But in 2008 Bruno Boulestin, an anthropologist at Bordeaux University, examined the fragments recovered from one of the trenches, pointing out that nearly 2,000 samples belonged to fewer than 10 individuals.

“It is impossible to establish direct proof of cannibalism. But here we have systematic, repetitive gestures, which suggest that the bodies were eaten,” says Boulestin. The marks of breaking, cutting, scraping and crushing indicate that the bodies were dismembered, the tendons and ligaments severed, the flesh torn off, the bones smashed. The vertebra were cut up to remove the ribs, just as butchers do today with loin chops. The tops of skulls were opened to extract the brains. Another telling clue is that there are proportionately fewer bones containing marrow, particularly vertebrae and short bones, suggesting they were set aside.

A quick investigation of the bones in neighbouring ditches showed that they had suffered the same fate. Extrapolating to the whole site, only half of which was excavated, about 1,000 people must have been butchered. There is no other example in prehistory of a mass grave of this size. “We are dealing with an exceptional event,” says Zeeb-Lanz. Other cases of neolithic cannibalism have certainly been identified, in particular in France, at the caves at Fontbrégoua and Adaouste, near the south coast, or at Les Perrats, further west, but never on this scale.

What can this bloodbath mean? The potsherds found among the human remains suggest it must have occurred over a period of no longer than 50 years. There is nothing to imply the victims were killed for food. Only under extreme conditions would 100 or so farmers have been able to overcome about 10 times their number. The archaeologists have therefore concluded that this was some form of ritual killing. In some cases the tops of skulls were arranged to form a nest, scattered with pottery fragments, broken adzes, jewellery made of shells, the paws and jawbones of dogs.

There are two main types of ritual cannibalism, as the historian Jean Guilaine and palaeopathologist Jean Zammit explain in The Origins of War: Violence in Prehistory. Exocannibalism targets people outside the community: by eating a conquered enemy the aim was not so much to feed on their body as to make them disappear for ever, appropriating their strength, energy and valour.

Endocannibalism, within a community, was a token of affection, the recognition of a bond that needed to be maintained. The scientists have also excluded this possibility, given the small size of the village. But wartime exocannibalism also seems unlikely, as it would have involved raids on remote communities to bring back hordes of prisoners and their pottery.

The team that discovered the site have come up with another hypothesis. Members of the Linear Pottery culture deliberately gathered here, with their prisoners and pottery, to take part in sacrificial cere*monies.

“At this time, the Linear Pottery culture was undergoing a crisis, which led to its disappearance,” says Zeeb-Lanz. “Perhaps they hoped to prevent the end of their world through some ceremony, of which cannibalism was just a part.”


Wednesday, April 1st, 2009, 01:56 AM
Here is a prime example of what I have mentioned before about modern science making all these assumptions and building upon them. They found some bones that were aparently scraped. Suddenly they know that they must have been cannibalised. They know it must have been ritualisistic. The now know why they did the ritual: because their world was declining and they thought it would save them. This is all make believe. We have no way of knowing the past. They could have simply scraped the meat off and fed it to the dogs for all we know. Or it could have been scraped off for some other purpose. LIkewise we can never know their motivations. Also I don't think we can date thing very accurately. This all occured within 50 years? Even carbon dating isn't that accurate. It's all guess work.

You will hardly ever see a "scientific" publication that says "we don't know much". They never will admit it. They would rather fill in their wildest fantasies and look like experts and bedazzle the public like modern magicians.

Hauke Haien
Wednesday, April 1st, 2009, 02:23 AM
The marks of breaking, cutting, scraping and crushing indicate that the bodies were dismembered, the tendons and ligaments severed, the flesh torn off, the bones smashed. The vertebra were cut up to remove the ribs, just as butchers do today with loin chops. The tops of skulls were opened to extract the brains. Another telling clue is that there are proportionately fewer bones containing marrow, particularly vertebrae and short bones, suggesting they were set aside.
Sounds like a systematic destruction of the body, a cremation without actually setting the body on fire. Funeral rites would also explain why this was done shortly after their deaths. I imagine that it is difficult to establish an actual cause of death with remains that have been processed this way.

Of course, anthropophagia is known to happen, but on this scale it would be highly unusual.

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009, 02:28 AM
I really believe this comes from the African tradition of eating the dead which was going on until recently, but the people all started dying of disease because if you eat human brains it can spread a disease. So it just seems to me like they are trying to prove that we are all alike and that all races have eaten their dead. Even though there isn't a shred of evidence of this. Just like Africans rape people to cure aids next they will be trying to prove that our ancestors did something similar. lol

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009, 03:22 AM
The thing is though. My mindset is sort of "Survival by any means necessary." When you have fully absorbed the implications of the "Selfish gene" Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biology and the principles of Darwinian survival.
Honestly, if there was a nuclear winter from a volcanic eruption or something and my kids were starving I would resort to hunting people. It wouldn't bother me.

Friday, December 11th, 2009, 03:35 PM
By Angelika Franz

Was it mass cannibalism, ritual slaughter or both? Archaeologists who unearthed the remains of 500 Stone Age corpses in the German town of Herxheim say the meat was cut off their bones as if they were livestock. One conclusion is that the people were eaten -- after volunteering to be sacrificed.

How do you carve up a cow? First you cut the meat off the bones. You start by severing the muscles from the joints with a sharp knife. The fibrous meat can then easily be scraped off, from top to bottom. After you've removed the flesh there's still a lot of goodness left. Deep in the long bones and vertebrae lies the marrow. To get at this delicacy you smash the bones and scrape out the marrow or simply boil it out in water. What's left is a pile of naked bones with traces of scratching and scraping as well as the small debris of bone that contained marrow.

Archaeologists found just such a pile -- a huge one -- when they were excavating a Stone Age settlement in the small town of Herxheim in south-western Germany. The only difference is that the bones aren't from cattle. Researchers found the carefully scraped remains of some 500 humans, and they haven't even excavated half the site. "We expect the number of dead to be twice as high," said Andrea Zeeb-Lanz, project leader of the Cultural Heritage Agency of the state of Rhineland-Palatinate.

That's a lot of corpses for a tiny Stone Age village. There were 10 buildings at most here in the last phase of the Linear Pottery culture of the European Neolithic Age around 5,000 to 4,950 years BC. The corpses weren't native to this area, researchers have discovered. They came from all over Europe -- from the area of what is now Paris, from the Moselle River 100 kilometers to the northwest and even from the Elbe River valley some 400 kilometers away. The broken bits of pottery lying between their ribs reveal their origin. It's the so-called Linear Pottery that gave the entire population group its name: decorated with linear patterns pressed into the moist clay while it was being made.

Butchered by Experts

The strangers brought only the finest pottery from their home regions -- in many cases even more beautiful than the pottery they placed inside the graves of their own dead at home. But the pottery was smashed to pieces and scattered over the bones, along with brand new millstones and stone blades. Everything was hacked to pieces, broken up, mixed together and poured into pits.

The anthropolgist Bruno Boulestin conducted a close examination of the bone fragments. He published his findings from one pit eight meters long in the latest edition of Antiquity magazine. The pit contained a total of 1,906 bone fragments from at least 10 people. Two of them were infants or still-born children, one was a fetus in the 34th to 36th week of pregnancy, there were two children aged six and 15 and six adults, at least one of whom was male.

All of them -- babies, children, adults -- were butchered by expert hands while the bones were still fresh, as the breaks and cuts show. Boulestin concluded that the human bones bore the same marks as those of slaughtered livestock, and that the dead of Herxheim were prepared as meals. He believes that marks on the bones indicate that body parts were cooked on skewers. His conclusions contradict other researchers who believe the meat was taken off the bones as part of a burial ritual, and wasn't eaten.

No Signs of Battle Wounds

Who were the dead? Conquered enemies perhaps? Probably not, because the bones showed no signs of battle wounds. None of the skulls found was smashed, and there were no arrow heads between the ribs. The dead of Herxheim appear to have been in good health when they died. Their joints weren't worn down, their teech were in exceptionally good condition and there was no sign of malnutrition.

The theory of conquered enemies also seems unlikely given that the small group of Herxheim villagers is unlikely to have vanquished people hundreds of kilometers away and dragged 1,000 of them back to their little hamlet in the space of just 50 years. "One could also imagine that people volunteered to come here and be ritually sacrificed," Zeeb-Lanz told SPIEGEL ONLINE.

So what happed in Herxheim at the start of the fifth millennium BC? It's clear that the hamlet quickly came to fame. It had been a sleepy, uneventful place since the so-called Flomborn Phase around 5,300 years BC. But around the turn of the millennium something happened that caused people from all over Europe to make pilgrimages to this place -- a sensational feat of logistics and communication for that age.

Only 50 Years of Fame

But it didn't last long. By 4,950 BC everything was over. After that there were no more deaths in Herxheim because the settlement ceased to exist. It's a puzzling phenomenon for archaeologists because 50 years is an extremely short time for a place of such significance. "And 50 year is the maximum," says Zeeb-Lanz. "It could all have happened in just two years or even five weeks."

It's clear that it wasn't hunger that drove the inhabitants of this mysterious hamlet to carve up humans. What they did with their victims was part of a ritual, a religious ceremony. This includes the mysterious treatment of human skulls. First the skin was peeled off them. All it took was a cut across the length of the head and the skin could be peeled off the sides. Then a blow to the face at the front and the base of the neck at the back, and two blows each at the sides -- the result looks like a drinking vessel.

"But probably nobody drank from them. The edges are still so sharp today that one would cut one's lips on them," says Zeeb-Lanz. Archeologists found these prepared skulls piled together in one place. "The more research conduct, the more mysterious this place becomes."

But did the Herxheimers really devour the dead? It's impossible to prove that archaeologically. Boulestin is sure they did, but not all members of the excavation team agree with him. Project leader Zeeb-Lanz is careful too: "We mustn't forget that this was no giant settlement. Who is supposed to have eaten all this?"

Friday, December 11th, 2009, 03:46 PM

I seem to recall there was also controversial evidence of some form of cannibalism at Stone Henge, which I think may have been in roughly the same time period as Herxheim! If this is the case, could it be some sort of proto-Druidic ritual?


Hauke Haien
Friday, December 11th, 2009, 04:24 PM
There is nothing specifically "proto-Druidic" about LBK, which predates Celts by millenia.

If we compare Urnfield (1300-750 BCE) and Hallstatt (1200 BCE-400 CE) with the Nordic Bronze Age (1800–500 BCE) and the Pre-Roman Iron Age (500 BCE–1 CE), we find that Celtic culture is not any more fundamental or even genetic than Germanic culture is, despite some shared roots.

Friday, December 11th, 2009, 05:15 PM
The last supper in the bible describes some sort of ritual cannibalism. Doesn't seem to extraordinary to me.

Abraham was ready to sacrifice his own son to his God.

We read about the Golem who ate children and so on.

The Jivaro in South America are to this day hunting enemies and cut their heads and make shrink heads out of them.

Hanging as a capital punishment was done in honor to Wodan/Odin.

The question is why nowadays we find that eery. What changed is the perception, the moral evaluation of these deeds. To look objectively at that event one has to avoid the view from nowadays morals.

But this is obviously not wished. The message for all white people shall be: your are from a doomed race which cannibalised people. that's why it is in the news.

To fry people with nuclear weapons, or napalm, or in bombs in worldwar II doesn't shock us as much. It seems to me by far more brutal than ritual killings and eating human flesh (if that ever happened, which hasn't been proven yet). Though nowadays cruelties are committed by white people too (which doesn't mean that black people are not by far crueller but lack the means of bigger crimes)

The human brain is an organ of perception into the spirit world. In the middleworld, recognized by shamanic cultures, are spirits with a different agenda which are not compassionate. If one meddles with them the results can be gruesome to people unprepared for it.

Celtic and germanic shamanism has the hallmark of working with that world and their inhabitants. Sorcerers work with that world and those spirits. The results don't fit into this world we all live in (which is part of the middleworld, (also called Midgaard in norse mythology)). Sorcerers can become very powerful people and may use humans for their purposes.

7000 years ago was a different world, a different worldview than we have today, most likely it has been a more magical world. Todays worldview makes spirits something which only exists in phantasy. Norse mythology gives us contrary to it different spirit categories with their characteristics and their relationship to humans.

Falling prey to those spirits which are hostile or malevolent can give you power but also enslave you.

To find out what happened at this tiny village will be impossible for scientific means. To find out you would have to use different means and different skills.