When early humans, including our species, ate their own kind, it was more likely for ritual purposes than for a nourishing meal, according to an unusual study released Thursday.
Carving up the human body to calculate the caloric value of each part, the study argues that prehistoric cannibalism — while less rare than widely assumed — was a dangerous undertaking offering relatively meagre nutritional rewards.
Kilo for kilo, a wild horse, bear, or boar had more than three times the calories in fat and protein than our lean-and-mean human ancestors, who were mostly skin, muscle, and bone, according to the research, published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Moreover, human prey — as wily as the hunter — would surely put up a good fight before being sliced up into filets.
"I did the study because I wanted to know how nutritional we are compared to these other animals," explained James Cole, a senior lecturer in archaeology at the University of Brighton in England.
"That might tell us whether we, and other human species, were doing it for the calories, or if there is some other explanation," he told AFP.