Ancient Britons used skulls as cups

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The skeleton of 'Cheddar Man' was found at the same site in 1903

Scientists have uncovered skeletal remains which revealed ancient Britons used human skulls as drinking cups.

The 14,700-year-old objects were discovered in Gough’s Cave, Somerset.

Scientists from London’s Natural History Museum believe the skull-cups were probably used in some kind of ritual.

Three skull-cups have been identified amongst the human bones from the cave and are believed to be the oldest directly dated skull-cups and the only examples known from the British Isles.

The brain cases from three individuals were fashioned in such a meticulous way that their use as bowls to hold liquid seems the only reasonable explanation, scientists said.

Gough’s Cave is in the Cheddar Gorge, a deep limestone canyon on the southern edge of the Mendip Hills. In 1903 “Cheddar Man”, the complete skeleton of a male dating to about 10,000 years ago, was found at the site.

Scientists said the skull-cup evidence demonstrates that early Britons were skilled in post-mortem manipulation of human bodies. Results of the research suggest the processing of cadavers for the consumption of bone marrow, accompanied by meticulous shaping of cranial vaults.

The distribution of cut marks indicates that the skulls were scrupulously “cleaned” of any soft tissues, and subsequently modified by the removal of the facial region.

The vaults were also “retouched”, possibly to make the broken edges more regular. This manipulation suggests the shaping of skulls to produce skull-cups

Lead author Silvia Bello told BBC News: “If food was the objective, the skull would be highly fragmented. But here you can really see they tried to preserve most of the skull bone. The cut marks tell us they tried to clean the skull, taking off every piece of soft tissue so that they could then modify it very precisely. They were manufacturing something.”

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