In an intriguing revelation from the depths of a cave in southern Spain, scientists have unearthed evidence of ancient human remains that were exhumed, altered, and repurposed by subsequent generations. This discovery, spearheaded by a team from the University of Bern, Switzerland, was made at the Cueva de los Marmoles, near Granada, and uncovers a unique aspect of historical human behavior, where bones were not just interred, but also manipulated for various uses post-mortem.
The skeletal remains, belonging to at least 12 individuals interred between 5,000 BC and 2,000 BC, bore distinct marks of intentional post-mortem modifications. The researchers noticed fractures and scrapes on the bones, possibly resulting from attempts to extract marrow and other tissues. One shinbone, or tibia, had been notably modified, suggesting its use as a tool, while a skull had been scraped around its perimeter, hinting at a dietary or practical application. This discovery offers a captivating glimpse into the "complex funerary behaviors" of prehistoric communities in the region.
Ancient Human Remains Used as Tools: Unraveling the Story in Southern Spain
Discovering the Past
Researchers, spearheaded by a team from the University of Bern, Switzerland, have made a fascinating discovery in a cave in southern Spain. The Cueva de los Marmoles, located near the city of Granada, has yielded skeletal remains of ancient humans that were not only deliberately unearthed but also modified and used as tools by later generations.
The remains, dating from 5,000 BC to 2,000 BC, belong to at least 12 different individuals. Intriguingly, the bones show deliberate post-mortem modifications, including fractures and scrapes that may have resulted from attempts to extract marrow and other tissues.
Bones as Tools
An interesting find in the cave was a tibia, or shinbone, that seemed to have been modified to be used as a tool. Marco Milella, a physical anthropology research fellow at the University of Bern, explained, "The tibia was first broken, and one end of the resulting fragment used to scrape some material."
In another notable case, a human cranium, or skull, had been scraped around its edges, perhaps for dietary or practical purposes. These modified skulls are often referred to as "skull cups." However, according to Milella, the term does not necessarily imply their use as containers.
Unlocking the Mysteries of Funerary Practices
These findings point towards the existence of "complex funerary behaviors" in the area during prehistoric times. The manipulations and modifications of human remains are consistent with evidence found at other cave sites in the region. However, the reason behind these practices, which became particularly common around 4,000 BC in the southern Iberian peninsula, remains unclear.
According to Milella, the caves likely served as social landmarks for these communities. The relationship with the dead and their physical remains were seemingly a medium for maintaining and transmitting social memory, as well as fostering group cohesion.
Interestingly, it is possible that those who modified the remains may have known the individuals to whom they belonged during their lifetime. "The action performed on the remains did not happen a long time after death," Milella noted, suggesting a personal connection between the modifiers and the deceased.
The discovery presents a captivating look into prehistoric cultures and their complex relationships with death and remembrance. The amount of manipulated bones and the extended use of the cave for funerary purposes paint a picture of a culture deeply connected with their deceased, using the cave as a focal point for generations.
The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, reaffirms our understanding of these cultures’ funerary behavior while opening up new avenues for further exploration and research. It’s a stark reminder that our ancestors had complex customs and rituals surrounding death, some of which may seem foreign to us today, but all of which contribute to the rich tapestry of human history.