There doesn’t appear to be a connection between the prehistoric Brits and the other global practitioners of endocannibalism. Evidence for cannibalism among Neanderthals dating to early periods has also been found, but again, the researchers do not believe that there was a connection to the activities of Gough’s Cave.
“These Gough’s people were separated by more than 20,000 years from the last Neanderthals and the first modern-looking humans in Europe, so it’s unlikely to be the continuity of a tradition,” Stringer explained. “I think these traditions probably developed independently of each other.”
The zig-zag design was a common one for the period. Bello shared that several lissoirs — bone tools used to smooth hides — from sites dated to the Magdalenian period (17,000–12,000 years ago) in France are engraved with similar artistic motifs.
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The researchers believe that the arm bone engraving was meaningful, though, beyond a familiar and presumably easily-produced design.
“The act of engraving has often been associated with ways of remembering events, places or circumstances — a sort of extension of our memory outside our body,” Bello said. “In this case, however, the engraving of this bone may have been a sort of memory more directly related to the deceased, and an intrinsic part of the cannibalistic ritual itself.”
While the engraving’s precise meaning may never be determined, the researchers are currently conducting DNA research on some of the excavated prehistoric human bones.
The findings, Stringer said, “should help us to answer the question of how closely related the Gough’s people were to each other, to other human groups in Britain, and also their relationship to populations in continental Europe, from where they must have originated.”
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