A cannibal history ? Fossils suggest human ancestors butchered and ate each other
Scientists have discovered what might possibly be the oldest evidence of cannibalism in the history of human civilisation.
A fossilised leg bone which has cut marks that appear to have been made by stone tools might be the oldest evidence that proves ancient humans butchered each other and ate their flesh, reported Independent.
In the study which was published in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers observed that nine cut marks are present on a 1.45 million-year-old left shin bone which belongs to modern human ancestors and was discovered in northern Kenya.
"This could be the oldest instance of cannibalism in a human relative species known with a high degree of confidence and specificity," they stated.
Smithsonian Institution palaeoanthropologist Briana Pobiner was combing through fossils present at a museum in Nairobi, Kenya and finding clues related to prehistoric predators that ate ancient relatives of humans.
Marks of butchery
Dr Pobiner observed what "looked to her like marks of butchery" and then the samples were compared with controlled experiments.
It was observed that two bite marks were of a big cat, however, the other nine marks appeared similar to butchery marks present on animal fossils that seemed to have been hunted and eaten by humans and their ancestors.
She stated that the cuts resembled those which are said to be made by stone tools.
"The cuts are located on the shin where a calf muscle would have attached to the bone — a good place to cut if the goal is to remove a chunk of flesh. These cut marks look very similar to what I've seen on animal fossils that were being processed for consumption. It seems most likely that the meat from this leg was eaten and that it was eaten for nutrition as opposed to for a ritual," Dr Pobiner stated.
Not enough evidence to prove cannibalism
Although only the cut marks won't be able to prove that human ancestors ate each other, however, Dr Pobiner stated that this was the most likely scenario. She stated that the discovery was ''shocking, honestly, and very surprising, but very exciting''.
The scientists, however, argue that not enough evidence is present to conclusively infer that it is a sign of cannibalism since it would need the eater and the eaten to hail from the same species
Zeresenay Alemseged, who is a palaeoanthropologist at the University of Chicago, Illinois, stated, ''The evidence is so sporadic at this point, all we're doing is connecting the dots. We are trying to go inside the brains of the early hominids, which means it's going to be very complex.''