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Ancient Britons 'drank from skulls'
The braincases from three individuals were fashioned in such a meticulous way that their use as bowls to hold liquid seems the only reasonable explanation.
The 14,700-year-old objects were discovered in Gough's Cave, Somerset. Scientists from London's Natural History Museum say the skull-cups were probably used in some kind of ritual.
Here we describe the post-mortem processing of human heads at the Upper Palaeolithic site of Gough's Cave (Somerset, England) and identify a range of modifications associated with the production of skull-cups. New analyses of human remains from Gough's Cave demonstrate the skilled post-mortem manipulation of human bodies. Results of the research suggest the processing of cadavers for the consumption of body tissues (bone marrow), accompanied by meticulous shaping of cranial vaults. The distribution of cut-marks and percussion features indicates that the skulls were scrupulously 'cleaned' of any soft tissues, and subsequently modified by controlled removal of the facial region and breakage of the cranial base along a sub-horizontal plane. The vaults were also ‘retouched’, possibly to make the broken edges more regular. This manipulation suggests the shaping of skulls to produce skull-cups.
New ultrafiltered radiocarbon determinations provide direct dates of about 14,700 cal BP, making these the oldest directly dated skull-cups and the only examples known from the British Isles.
Haplogroup U5 is the most common in Western and Northern Europe. DNA tests on ancient skeletons have shown that U5 was the principal mitochondrial haplogroup of Paleolithic and Mesolithic hunter-gatherers in Northern Europe. Ancient DNA tests conducted in Britain, Germany and Scandinavia indicate that the frequency of U5 has progressively declined over time through the Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Middle Ages. Nowadays it remains most common in the far north of Europe, where the Mesolithic population has been least affected by subsequent migrations. For instance, 30 to 50% of the Sami people of northern Scandinavia belong to haplogroup U5b (and about 40% to haplogroup V, which is also pre-Neolithic European origin).