Cannibalism in europe 2019

Cannibalism in europe 2019 DEFAULT

Neandertal cannibalism and Neandertal bones used as tools in Northern Europe


Almost 150 years after the first identification of Neandertal skeletal material, the cognitive and symbolic abilities of these populations remain a subject of intense debate. We present 99 new Neandertal remains from the Troisième caverne of Goyet (Belgium) dated to 40,500–45,500 calBP. The remains were identified through a multidisciplinary study that combines morphometrics, taphonomy, stable isotopes, radiocarbon dating and genetic analyses. The Goyet Neandertal bones show distinctive anthropogenic modifications, which provides clear evidence for butchery activities as well as four bones having been used for retouching stone tools. In addition to being the first site to have yielded multiple Neandertal bones used as retouchers, Goyet not only provides the first unambiguous evidence of Neandertal cannibalism in Northern Europe, but also highlights considerable diversity in mortuary behaviour among the region’s late Neandertal population in the period immediately preceding their disappearance.


Neandertal funerary practices remain at the forefront of palaeoanthropological research, generating heated debates following the revision of old data and new excavations at key sites such as La Chapelle-aux-Saints1,2, Roc de Marsal3, Saint-Césaire4 and La Ferrassie5. More generally, attention has focused on the variability of Neandertal mortuary practices to evaluate their cognitive and symbolic implications, especially as they may provide insights concerning the social systems of this fossil human group6. Neandertals are known to have buried their dead and are associated with mortuary behaviours that are often difficult to interpret in Palaeolithic contexts. The site of Krapina (Croatia) is an instructive example in this sense. Evidence for cannibalism was first proposed for this site as early as 19017 based on the fragmentation and traces of burning from a large collection of early Neandertal remains. This evidence has since been disputed by proponents of alternative explanations for the human bone modifications who argue for natural processes while others maintain that the anthropogenic manipulations are best interpreted in the context of secondary burials8. Several studies dedicated to cannibalism have proposed that securely identifying anthropogenic modifications related to this practice should incorporate evidence for the similar treatment of both faunal and human remains in the interest of extracting nutrients9,10,11. In addition to Gran Dolina (level TD6; Early Pleistocene) in Spain, which has produced the earliest undisputed evidence for cannibalism12, further examples have also been documented at several Western European Neandertal sites, including El Sidrón and Zafarraya13,14 in Spain, and Moula-Guercy and Les Pradelles15,16 in France.

Here we provide new data on the diversity of Neandertal mortuary behaviour, focusing on a small area of their known range, Northern Europe, during Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 3 (ca. 60–30 thousand years ago), in order to identify small-scale processes during this short period that witnessed the disappearance of the Neandertals17. We present 99 new Neandertal remains recently identified among the collections from the Troisième caverne of Goyet (Belgium), some of which exhibit anthropogenic modifications, and discuss their implications.

The Troisième caverne (or “Third cave”) of Goyet, excavated in the latter half of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, and again at the end of the 1990s18, is part of a large cave system located in the Mosan Basin (Supplementary Fig. S1). The most extensive excavations were carried out by Edouard Dupont in 1868, who described five “fauna-bearing levels” (FBL; ref. 19; Supplementary Note S1). The Troisième caverne yielded a rich archaeological sequence with Middle and Upper Palaeolithic deposits containing Mousterian, Lincombian-Ranisian-Jerzmanowician (LRJ), Aurignacian, Gravettian and Magdalenian artefacts as well as Neolithic and historic period material20,21,22,23. Whether the Mousterian material derives from a single or multiple phases of occupation is currently impossible to discern (Supplementary Note S2). Unfortunately, the excavation methods did not meet today’s standards, and it appears that the levels described by Dupont actually represent a mix of material from different periods (e.g., ref. 24).

Several human remains from different levels were published by Dupont19 and Hamy25, although only a few figure in the Catalogue of Fossil Hominids26, all of which were attributed to the Magdalenian. In 2004, we identified both a Neandertal mandible fragment and an isolated tooth among the human material recovered by Dupont from the Troisième caverne and currently housed at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (RBINS)27, making Goyet one of the few Northern European sites north of 50° N to have yielded MIS 3 Neandertal remains (Supplementary Note S1 and Supplementary Fig. S1).


Identification of new Neandertal remains at Goyet and their biogeochemical characterization

The reanalysis of the Goyet material comprised (i) the revision of the human skeletal material, (ii) systematic sorting of the faunal collections to check for unidentified human remains (Supplementary Fig. S2), and (iii) a multidisciplinary study of the human remains and their context. Two-hundred and eighty three human remains were identified from different periods, including 96 bone specimens and three isolated teeth identifiable as Neandertal (Supplementary Table S1 and Supplementary Notes S3, S4 and S5). A good number (n = 47) of the bone specimens refit, reducing the total number of isolated Neandertal remains to 64 (Fig. 1 and Supplementary Table S2), of which 10 were directly radiocarbon (14C) dated, 15 were sampled for stable isotope analyses, and 10 for DNA extraction (Table 1 and Supplementary Table S3). Based on their morphology and morphometric characteristics, developmental stage and side for paired elements, as well as the successful recovery of endogenous mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequences, the minimum number of individuals (MNI) represented by the Goyet sample is estimated at five (four adolescents/adults and one child represented by a single tooth; Supplementary Note S5 and Supplementary Fig. S3). Although the Neandertal sample includes cranial and postcranial elements (Fig. 1), with long bones best represented and extremities mostly absent, the minimum number of elements (MNE = 35) demonstrates a very low overall skeletal representation. The best represented elements are, in decreasing order, the tibia (six of the eight tibias expected for four adolescents/adults, 75% representation), femur and cranium (50%), humerus and mandible (25%; Supplementary Table S4).

*Designates the specimens that have been directly dated. Scale = 3 cm.

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Chemical elemental analyses performed together with stable isotope analyses were used to assess collagen preservation in preparation of 14C dating (see Methods). The ecology of the Goyet Neandertals was also investigated using δ13C and δ15N isotope composition of bone collagen28. Direct 14C dates obtained from the newly identified skeletal material place the Goyet Neandertals to ca. 40.5–45.5 ky calBP. However, when the youngest ages, which likely reflect undetected bone collagen contamination, are excluded (Supplementary Note S6), we cannot rule out the possibility that the Goyet Neandertals represent a single chronological group dating to ca. 44–45.5 ky calBP. Although this appears the most parsimonious hypothesis when individual bone associations, taphonomic aspects and similar anthropogenic modifications observed across the sample are taken into account, we retain the conservative range of ca. 40.5–45.5 ky calBP for the Goyet Neandertals in the absence of definitive evidence.

Out of the 10 samples processed for genetic analysis, seven show three distinct complete or almost complete mtDNA lineages (noted 1–3 in Table 1). The newly reconstructed mtDNAs from Goyet were compared with the mtDNA of 54 modern humans, eight previously sequenced Neandertals and one Denisovan individual29,30,31,32,33,34. Phylogenetic relationships were assessed using maximum parsimony and maximum likelihood trees (Fig. 2 and Supplementary Fig. S4), confirming the analysed specimens to fall within the known diversity of Neandertal mtDNA. The Goyet Neandertal mtDNAs appear most closely related to late Neandertal mtDNAs from Central and Western Europe, such as those from the Neandertal type-site (Germany), El Sidrón (Spain) and Vindija (Croatia), which all show only modest genetic variation despite large geographic distances when compared to modern humans. As previously suggested31, this might reflect a low effective population size of Neandertals in general, and for the late Neandertals in particular.

Numbers at the main branch nodes represent bootstrap values after 1,000 iterations.

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Taphonomic analysis of the Goyet Neandertal material and anthropogenic modifications

Overall, the Neandertal remains are highly fragmented. Forty-nine percent of the bone specimens (47 out of 96) were refit to at least one other, with the number of specimens per refit set ranging from 2 to 8 (tibia I; Supplementary Fig. S5). Several examples of refits between levels 1 through 3 were also identified. None of the Neandertal bones are complete, although the proximal extremity of a hand phalanx (2878–37) is only slightly eroded (Fig. 1). Cortical surfaces are well preserved and exhibit limited post-depositional modifications. Most long bones fractures involve green breaks, as indicated by smooth margins and spiral fractures35. Traces of peeling may also provide evidence for the fresh bone fracture of a cranial fragment and several ribs (ref. 11; Supplementary Fig. S6). Although bears can produce such traces36, the presence of cutmarks on several ribs (see below) suggests that the most parsimonious hypothesis is that they are anthropogenic. Traces of human chewing37,38 are also suspected on the Neandertal phalanges but are inconclusive (Supplementary Fig. S6). The numerous unambiguous anthropogenic marks on the Goyet Neandertal remains can be attributed to three categories of bone surface modifications (Figs 3, 4, 5, Table 2, and Supplementary Figs S7 and S8):

  1. 1

    Cutmarks. Nearly a third of the Neandertal specimens bear cutmarks. The locations of the limited number of cutmarks observed on the upper limb may indicate disarticulation whereas those on the lower limb are consistent with defleshing. Several cutmarks on the internal and external surfaces of the ribs may be connected to evisceration, dismemberment of the thoracic cage and removal of the thoracic muscles. An additional cutmark on the medial side of the mandible, close to the mandibular condyle, appears consistent with dismemberment.

  2. 2

    Two types of percussion marks (notches and pits) were identified. Observed only on a single radius alongside several femurs and tibias, notches are likely connected to the fracturing of fresh diaphyses and marrow extraction. Percussion pits are common and probably indicate failed attempts at fracturing bones. Both percussion notches and pits were also identified on eight bones (e.g. femur I, Fig. 5).

  3. 3

    Retouching marks. These marks, found on a femur and three tibias (Supplementary Figs S9–S12), result from retouching the edges of stone tools. The fact that none of the affected areas overlap on adjacent fragments suggests the bones to probably have first been marrow cracked. Femur III shows two retouching zones on the anterior and postero-medial surfaces, both located at mid-shaft. Interestingly, the traces found on the tibias are located in the same areas of the shaft on all three bones (posterior or postero-medial surface at mid-shaft). The retouchers are made on four different Neandertal bones that represent at least three of the four adolescent/adult Neandertal individuals (Supplementary Note S5).

See Supplementary Fig. S8 for individual Neandertal bones with anthropogenic modifications. Skeleton diagrams modified from and using Adobe Illustrator CS4 v. 14.0.0.

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(a) femur III in anterior view; (b1,c1) close-up photos; (b2,c2) images obtained using a minidome (see Methods).

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(a) femur I in posterior view; (b1,c1) close-up photos; (b2,c2) images obtained using a minidome (see Methods).

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While animal bone retouchers are common in European Middle Palaeolithic contexts (e.g., refs 39, 40, 41), Goyet is one of only four sites (Krapina in Croatia42, La Quina and Les Pradelles in France43,16) to have yielded retouchers on Neandertal skeletal elements and the sole to have produced multiple examples (Table 3). At Krapina and Les Pradelles, femur shaft fragments were used as retouchers, whereas the La Quina example is on a parietal fragment. According to the criteria proposed by Mallye et al.40, the blanks used for the Goyet retouchers made on Neandertal bones were most likely green due to the absence of scaled areas, and in addition, two of the five retoucher areas exhibit concentrated and superposed marks which imply prolonged use. The rectilinear morphology of the marks also supports the use of the bones for retouching flint flakes, the most common raw material found at Goyet.

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Comparative taphonomic analysis of the fauna from the Troisième caverne

Due to the large size of the Goyet faunal collection (>30,000 specimens), only a sample from Dupont’s excavation was examined (see Methods; Supplementary Fig. S2 and Supplementary Table S5). The skeletal material analysed corresponds mostly to long bone shaft fragments from various species that were mixed together within the collection and did not appear to have been previously sorted. We focused on remains from levels 3 and 2, which yielded the Neandertal remains, and on material from the same storage trays containing the human remains in order to have an overview of the associated faunal spectrum and assess food procurement and management strategies. Horse and reindeer are by far the most frequent species in the studied assemblage (86% of the 1,556 identified specimens; Supplementary Table S5). No rodent toothmarks were observed, carnivore remains are relatively sparse and carnivore damage is extremely rare on the Neandertal, horse and reindeer remains (Table 2), indicating carnivores to have had limited access to the bone material.

Anatomical profiles reveal numerous similarities between the Neandertal sample on one hand and horse and reindeer on the other (Supplementary Table S6 and Supplementary Fig. S13). The tibia is the most abundant element of all three species, whereas the axial skeleton and extremities of the forelimb and hindlimb are poorly represented. Bones of the hindlimb are better represented for all three species compared to forelimb elements, this is especially the case with the Neandertal material. The only notable difference between the faunal and Neandertal remains is the high representation of cranial elements for the latter. Unfortunately, the absence of contextual data precludes an analysis of the spatial distribution of both the faunal and Neandertal remains within the Troisième caverne.

The most intensely processed Neandertal elements are femurs and tibias (Supplementary Fig. S7), which are also the bones with the highest nutritional content (meat and marrow). The same pattern was documented for horse and reindeer bones. Overall, anthropogenic marks on the Neandertal remains match those most commonly recorded on the faunal material (Supplementary Figs S14–S16). All three taxa were intensively exploited, exhibiting evidence of skinning, filleting, disarticulation and marrow extraction. However, the Neandertal remains stand out as they show a high number of percussion pits (Table 2), which may be linked to the thick cortical structure of Neandertal long bones. Although the Neandertal remains show no traces of burning, the possibility that they may have been roasted or boiled cannot be excluded. The high number of cutmarks and the fact that DNA could be successfully extracted are, however, inconsistent with this possibility44,45,46. Lastly, similar to what has been noted at other sites40,41,47, the Neandertal retouchers are made on fragments of dense bones with comparable mechanical properties to the horse and reindeer bones. At Goyet, as at several French Middle Palaeolithic sites, large bone fragments of medium and large-sized animals were selected40,41,48,49,50,51. Among the Goyet Neandertal material, the largest and thickest fragments were also selected, as was the case at Les Pradelles16 and Krapina42. Interestingly, a femur and tibias of cave bears were also among the retoucher blanks selected by Neandertals at Scladina52.

The observed patterns of faunal exploitation can be interpreted as the selective transport of meat and marrow rich elements to the site that were subsequently intensively processed. However, this apparent pattern may reflect a collection bias favoring the largest and most easily identifiable fragments. Similarities in anthropogenic marks observed on the Neandertal, horse and reindeer bones do, however, suggest similar processing and consumption patterns for all three species.


Our results show that the Neandertals from the Troisième caverne of Goyet were butchered, with the hypothesis of their exploitation as food sources the most parsimonious explanation for the observed bone surface modifications. Goyet provides the first unambiguous evidence of Neandertal cannibalism in Northern Europe and given the dates obtained on the Neandertal remains, it is most likely that they were processed by their fellow Neandertals as no modern humans are known to have been in the region at the time17,23. However, the available data make it impossible to determine whether the modifications observed on the Neandertal skeletal material represent symbolic practices or simply result from the processing of immediately available sources of food. In addition, Goyet is the first site to have yielded multiple Neandertal bone retouchers. It has been proposed that Middle Palaeolithic retoucher blanks were by-products of the processing of carcasses for food consumption40,41, which may have been selected to be re-used51. The data at hand do not allow us to propose a different scenario for the Goyet retouchers made on Neandertal bones. However, the freshness of the blanks used suggests that Neandertals may have been aware that they were using human remains. Whether this was part of a symbolic activity or induced by a functional motivation cannot be attested, as was the case for the La Quina Neandertal retoucher43.

Although the Goyet late Neandertals date to 40.5–45.5 ky calBP, the lack of reliable contextual information makes it impossible to associate them with any of the technocomplexes from the site. However, coeval Mousterian assemblages are known from sites in the Mosan Basin, as at unit 1A of Scladina53, located only 5 km from Goyet, layer CI-8 of Walou Cave54, and layer II of Trou de l’Abîme at Couvin55 (Supplementary Note S2). While the LRJ is known from two sites in Belgium, Spy and Goyet, with its first appearance dated at other sites to around 43–44 ky calBP23,56), no reliable information is currently available for its regional chronology. Given the direct 14C dates obtained for the Goyet Neandertals, it is impossible to securely associate them with either the Mousterian occupation(s) or the LRJ.

In terms of the region’s late Neandertal mortuary practices, four sites within an approximately 250 km radius around Goyet produced Neandertal remains reliably dated to between 50–40 ky calBP (Supplementary Fig. S1). Interestingly, none of these sites produced evidence for the treatment of the corpse similar to that documented for Goyet. Two Belgian sites, Walou Cave and Trou de l’Abîme, produced, respectively, a premolar and a molar55,57. Although impossible to infer the behavioural signature represented by these remains, given their state of preservation it is highly unlikely that they involved funerary practices, including burial. In Germany, the Neandertal individuals from Feldhofer, including Neandertal 1, are possibly associated with the “Keilmesser group”, a late Middle Palaeolithic technocomplex58,59 unknown at Goyet (Supplementary Note S2). Neandertal 1 comprises elements of the cranial and postcranial skeleton of a single individual. Despite cutmarks on the cranium, clavicle and scapula, the long bones are intact and damage to still articulated skeletal elements during their recovery indicates that at least part of the skeleton may have originally been in anatomical connection60,61. Finally, at Spy, direct dates obtained on the two Neandertal adults place them within the current chronology of the LRJ62, although the association between the human remains and this technocomplex is uncertain due to the lack of contextual information. A recent reassessment of the Spy specimens and their context suggests that both individuals were buried63. And, it is worth noting that the most complete individual, Spy II, was originally described as a complete skeleton found in a contracted position. Moreover, the completeness of the skeleton and the absence of post-depositional alterations suggest the body to have been rapidly protected63.

Considerable diversity is evident in the mortuary behaviour of the late Neandertal populations of Northern Europe, possibly involving both primary and secondary deposits, alongside other types of practices, including cannibalism. Despite low genetic diversity amongst late Neandertal populations, the presence of various late Middle Palaeolithic technocomplexes, as well as the LRJ, nevertheless suggests significant behavioural variability amongst these groups in Northern Europe.


Collection assessment

The assessment of the Goyet collections included material housed at the RBINS and Royal Museums of Art and History (RMAH) in Brussels, which originate from the Troisième caverne, as well as collections from the Grand Curtius Museum (Liège), the Cercle d’Histoire et d’Archéologie du Pays de Genappe (Genappe), and the Préhistosite de Ramioul (Ramioul), whose origin is less secure. The Neandertal remains presented here were found among the first two collections only. The numbering system of the specimens and their origin are discussed in Supplementary Note S4.

Taphonomic study

After determining the composition of the faunal assemblage sampled from Dupont’s collection (Supplementary Table S5), a total of 442 horse and 287 reindeer remains were observed using a monocular microscope (×10), as were all of the Goyet Neandertal remains. Taphonomic and anthropogenic modifications were recorded and drawn on anatomical charts (Supplementary Figs S8 and S14–S16). Cutmarks and trampling marks were distinguished according to their morphology and placement on bones64. Only unambiguous notches with a negative flake scar65,66 made on fresh bone35 and percussion pits (left by impact events after ref. 66) were recorded as percussion marks. The identified bone retouchers are all long bone diaphysis fragments that exhibit marks as described by Mallye et al.40. Finally, toothmarks were recorded using Binford’s typology67. Only pits and scores were observed. Some of these pits might have been produced by human chewing38,67,68,69 but they are not characteristic enough to definitely distinguish them from marks left by carnivores. Following Bello et al.70, the anthropogenic modifications recorded on the Neandertal remains were documented using drawings, close-up photographs and high-resolution imaging. The high-resolution images (Figs 4 and 5, and Supplementary Figs S8–S12) were obtained by using a minidome, a digital imaging device developed by VISICS at KULeuven ( Based on the polynomial texture mapping technique, the dome consists of 260 LEDs and a single fixed camera, which captures an image with each LED individually lit. The results allow to display an object interactively under varying lighting to reveal all of the details of its surface. Additionally, 3D models of the retouchers made on Neandertal bones obtained using a white light 3D measurement system ( are available at

Sample selection and preparation for isotopic and genetic analyses

All sampled specimens were untreated (glued or varnished), newly identified Neandertal bones, except for tooth 2878–2D (see Table 1). Specimens were scanned or μ-scanned and molded using DC-3481 silicone elastomer before sampling, with photos taken both before and after. Collagen was extracted at the Centre for Isotope Research of Groningen University (CIO, Netherlands) and the Biogeology working group of the Department of Geosciences of Tübingen University (Germany; see Supplementary Table S3). Radiocarbon dating was done at the CIO; stable isotope and genetic analyses were performed at Tübingen University.

Isotope analyses

Collagen extraction at the CIO followed the procedure developed by Longin71, with additional chemical pretreatment using standard procedures72. Collagen extraction at Tübingen University followed a procedure modified from Longin71 described by Bocherens et al.73. Stable isotopic measurements (13C, 15N) used an elemental analyser NC 2500 connected to a Thermo Quest Delta+XL mass spectrometer. The degree of chemical preservation of collagen is expressed as the atomic ratio of Ccoll:Ncoll, whose acceptable range of variation is 2.9–3.674, while the nitrogen content (Ncoll) should be above 5%75. The carbon content of the extracted collagen ranges between 29.5 and 47.1% and nitrogen content between 10.1 and 17.0% (Supplementary Table S3), both of which fall in the range of fresh collagen76. The Ccoll:Ncoll atomic ratios span a narrow range (3.2–3.4), indicating exceptionally well-preserved collagen for all bone specimens (see Supplementary Note S6 for discussion of tooth 2878–2D). Subsequently, the collagen was sent to the CIO for 14C dating by AMS77.

Genetic analyses

Ten specimens were sampled (Table 1). DNA was extracted78 from bone powder and converted to double-indexed genetic libraries79,80. Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) was enriched using a bait capture technique81 and sequenced on a next generation sequencing platform (Illumina HiSeq). After quality filtering and merging paired-end reads82, a modified version of the BWA mapper and the SAMtools package in combination with a custom iterative mapping assembler30,83,84,85 were used to align reads to a reference Neandertal mtDNA sequence (Supplementary Table S7). Reads from the three low coverage specimens were also aligned to the modern human mtDNA reference sequence (rCRS) in order to exclude reference biases (Supplementary Table S8). The newly reconstructed complete or almost complete (i.e. at least 98% complete) mitochondrial genomes were compared with 63 other hominin mtDNA sequences in gene trees (Fig. 2 and Supplementary Fig. S4) to assess their phylogenetic placements and intergroup genetic relationships (Supplementary Note S7). The authenticity of the obtained mitochondrial sequences as endogenous ancient DNA was verified by analysing typical ancient DNA damage patterns (ref. 86 and Supplementary Fig. S17) as well as estimating the percentage of modern human DNA contamination (ref. 30 and Supplementary Table S7). Finally, damaged DNA molecules indicating an ancient origin were filtered34 and used to build new mtDNA consensus sequences. These were co-analysed with the same 63 mtDNAs in order to validate the assigned phylogenetic placement (Supplementary Figs S18 and S19).

Additional Information

Accession codes: The seven Neandertal mtDNA sequences reported in this article were deposited in GenBank and are available under accession numbers KX198082-KX198088.

How to cite this article: Rougier, H. et al. Neandertal cannibalism and Neandertal bones used as tools in Northern Europe. Sci. Rep.6, 29005; doi: 10.1038/srep29005 (2016).


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  1. Drdisrespect two time
  2. 2003 f150 u joint
  3. Wooden closet storage systems

A Swedish scientist suggested the climate crisis could lead people to consider eating human flesh. It's not the first time a scientist has suggested the idea.

  • Climate change is likely to put stress on our agricultural system and cause severe food shortages in the future.
  • Behavioral scientist Magnus Söderlund recently suggested that because of this, people might one day consider eating human flesh.
  • In 2018, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins put forth a similar idea. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Last week, behavioral scientist Magnus Söderlund posed a controversial question at a seminar in Sweden: Can you imagine eating human flesh?

As global temperatures continue to rise, Söderlund said in a talk at the Gastro Summit in Stockholm, the consequences for agriculture could cause food to become more scarce, which might force humans to consider alternative forms of nourishment.

Those sources might include insects like grasshoppers or worms, but they could also include corpses, Söderlund said. By gradually getting accustomed to the taste of our own flesh, he added, humans might come to view cannibalism as less taboo. 

Söderlund, a behavioral scientist at the Stockholm School of Economics, doesn't research nutrition science or the economics of our global food supply. He studies psychological reactions, like the audible groan from attendees when they were asked whether they'd consider eating a corpse. 

"I'd be open to at least tasting it," Söderlund later told the State Swedish Television channel TV4. 

Read more:Nibbled-on bones found in a cave revealed that our Neanderthal ancestors ate each other. Scientists may have figured out why.

The idea of using cannibalism to supplement our food supply isn't new. In 2018, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins wondered if it would be possible to grow meat from harvested human cells in a laboratory. 

Like Söderlund, he called the idea "an interesting test case" that might demonstrate whether humans could overcome the "yuck" factor in order to do something they considered moral, like reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.  

But of course, the suggestion of cannibalism is rife with problems. Genevieve Guenther, director of End Climate Silence, a nonprofit that advocates for more representation of climate change in the media, told Business Insider  that "to suggest that cannibalism is a solution to climate change is about as bad as climate denial itself."

She added: "I don't think that it should be even entertained in any seriousness, but exposed as a kind of propaganda that only makes it harder for us to transform the world in the ways that we need to."

'Our whole culture would descend into barbarism'

FILE PHOTO: Corn is loaded into a truck at a farm in Tiskilwa, Illinois, U.S., July 6, 2018.  REUTERS/Daniel Acker/File Photo

For Dawkins and Söderlund, cannibalism could be a way to prepare for a future in which supplies of some major food staples are wiped out. As climate-related disasters like floods, droughts, and extreme heat continue to get more frequent and extreme, agricultural producers will find it more difficult to grow crops. In less than a decade, the world could fall short of feeding every person on the planet by 214 trillion calories per year, or about 28,000 calories per person.

Söderlund's suggestion involves removing flesh from a corpse and serving it to humans, while Dawkins raised the possibility of taking stem cells from a living human, culturing them in a lab, and allowing the mature cells to grow into meat.

But there are myriad ethical problems to consider with either of these options, of course.

"The idea that we would be able to administer this in any kind of rational, systemic way is so absurd," Guenther said. "It would mean our whole culture would descend into barbarism."

Plus, there are many more straightforward, less grotesque ways to ensure we have enough food in the future.

A recent report from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that a quarter of all food worldwide is lost or wasted. By improving the way food is harvested, stored, packaged, and transported, the report said, producers could address food shortages. 

Dramatically reducing global emissions would also help the world avoid a future of high temperatures and more extreme weather conditions that make it difficult for farmers to grow food. 

The IPCC report found that the way we use land, through practices like farming, mining, logging, accounts for 23% of human-produced greenhouse-gas emissions. Reducing deforestation and tilling could help lower these emissions, as could reducing red meat consumption, the report found. 

Climate change drove our early ancestors to cannibalism

human neanderthal skulls
Tim Schoon, University of Iowa

Cannibalism has severe health risks for humans. A fatal disease linked to the practice of cooking dead bodies and eating them at funerals affected members of a tribe in Papua New Guinea until about 2009.

But climate change likely drove human ancestors to cannibalism before.

More than than 100,000 years ago, the world saw a dramatic spike in global temperatures that wiped out large mammal species like bison, reindeer, and mammoths. The period of rapid warming left some Neanderthals in Western Europe without a consistent food source, so they most likely resorted to eating each other, according to a study published in April. 

Still, Guenther said, by the time modern societies ever consider resorting to cannibalism, human society might already be in shambles because of climate change. 

"If we come to the point where we're looking at human corpses for food sources, we're going to have larger problems on our hands," Guenther said. "It will mean that we failed to mitigate the climate crisis."

Why Medical Cannibalism Was So Popular in Britain - Gods \u0026 Monsters - Absolute History

Cannibalism—the Ultimate Taboo—Is Surprisingly Common

Of all the screen villains, none is so disturbing as Hannibal Lecter, in The Silence of the Lambs. It’s not just that he kills people. He also eats them, thus contravening one of our deepest and most ancient taboos: that to consume human flesh is the ultimate betrayal of our humanity. But as zoologist and author Bill Schutt shows in his new book, Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History, not all cultures have shared this taboo. In ancient China, for instance, human body parts would appear on Imperial menus. [Find out what happened to one of the Uruguayan rugby players who ate his teammates after their plane crashed.]

When National Geographic caught up with Schutt by phone at his home on Long Island, the author explained how, in the animal kingdom, cannibalism is extremely common; why mad cow disease and a degenerative brain condition found in the highlands of New Guinea were both caused by cannibalism; and how climate change could trigger mass cannibalism.

book cover

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You write, “Cannibalism makes perfect evolutionary sense.” Explain that idea, with some examples, please.

It came as a surprise to me that cannibalism was so widespread across nature. Initially, the party line was that the only times you would see cannibalism—unless you were dealing with black widow spiders or praying mantises—would be when it was stress-related or due to a lack of alternative forms of food. But starting in the 1970s and ’80s, researchers started to uncover many instances across the animal kingdom where it was completely natural behavior.

For instance, spadefoot toads, in the American Southwest, lay their eggs in transient ponds, some no larger than puddles. Because of the climate, these ponds are in danger of drying up at any moment. So if you are a tadpole, it pays, from an evolutionary perspective, to get out of the pool as quickly as possible. If the pond dries out, you’re dead. As a result, they’ve evolved a mechanism by which a certain percentage of the tadpoles turn huge, overnight, with large jaw muscles, wild-looking teeth, and shortened digestive tracts. What they are doing is eating their brethren in the ponds. By doing so, they mature faster and are able to get out quicker than their herbivorous brothers and sisters.

EXCLUSIVE: Male Polar Bear Chases and Eats Cub

Polar bear cannibalism likely isn't a rare event, but it's rarely witnessed by people. During a Lindblad Expeditions trip on the National Geographic Explorer in the Arctic, crew and passengers spotted a male polar bear hunting and then eating a polar bear cub, despite the efforts of the cub's mother to protect it.

Sensational instances of cannibalism in the West, like New York City’s “Cannibal Cop,” always hit the headlines. Why are we so drawn to the idea of people eating each other?

Since Homer and the Greeks, we have been taught that cannibalism is the ultimate taboo. That continues from Homer through the Romans to Shakespeare, the brothers Grimm, Daniel Defoe, and Freud. You had this snowball effect where we were taught that cannibalism is this horror. If you combine this ultimate taboo with our fascination with food, what you get is a fascination with the topic.

The suspicion of cannibalism was used by the West to justify conquest, particularly in the New World. Explain how that worked.

When Columbus first arrived in the New World, he described the indigenous people as friendly and causing no problems. He had been told by Queen Isabella to treat these people with respect and kindness, except if it became clear they are cannibals, in which case, all bets were off. Initially, the Spanish were looking for gold and, when they didn’t find it, they figured that the next best thing was slaves.

Lo and behold, when Columbus came back, the indigenous people who had previously been classified as friendly were suddenly described as cannibals, so you could do anything to them. You could enslave them, take their land, murder them, and treat them like pestilence. And that’s exactly what happened, with the result that a lot of the islands were de-populated. The idea of cannibalism as a taboo was used to de-humanize the people encountered on these conquests.

Cannibalism is a taboo in nearly every culture. But not in China. Tell us about the history of “gourmet cannibalism”—and how Mao unleashed a new wave of famine-driven cannibalism during the Cultural Revolution.

During the Cultural Revolution, privately owned farms were collectivized. These techniques did not work, though, which resulted in a lot of people starving. Many people across China were reduced to incidents of what is known as “starvation cannibalism,” similar to the Donner Party. Families were often reduced to trading their children for the children of their neighbors, so they wouldn’t wind up killing and eating their own kids.

China is a special case because it was never exposed to the taboo against cannibalism. This is a Western taboo. If your culture dictates that, if you’re an emperor, you’re allowed to eat human body parts, then there’s nothing wrong with that. There are numerous descriptions of emperors and other members of the imperial court enjoying humans as a type of food, prepared in all different ways.

The most famous example of “survival cannibalism” is the Donner Party. Is the jury still out on whether they really did eat each other?

In 1847, the Donner Party set out to go to California, and wound up getting stuck in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Rather than backtracking to the flatlands, they decided to over-winter in the Sierras with the hope that they might be able to push through at a later date. That became impossible, and there were a number of rescue missions that also ran into problems with the weather. The Donners split the party into two camps about seven miles apart, and there was cannibalism at both of them.

Do we have bones? No. Is there physical evidence? No. But there were descriptions by many members of the Donner Party themselves and the rescue teams that went in. There was no controversy at the time. The only controversy arose in 2010 when some over-eager public relations folks at a college put out a sensational headline claiming that there was no proof the Donner Party had eaten humans. But a couple of summers ago I spent some time with Donner Party researchers, and there’s no doubt whatsoever that cannibalism took place.

tadpole eating tadpole

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Christians might be offended by your assertion that the Eucharist is, effectively, cannibalism. Explain what you mean—and how that idea helped that famous Uruguayan rugby team survive in the Andes.

Nowadays, the idea that this is the actual flesh and blood of Jesus Christ is not taken literally. But in the Middle Ages, that was not the case. Transubstantiation was believed to have taken place: The host and the wine literally became the flesh and blood of Christ. Therefore, in some sense, it was an act of cannibalism.

What happened with the Uruguayan rugby team is that, after they came out from the mountains and it was discovered that they had cannibalized the dead in order to survive, the public did not take that very well. They were not regarded as heroes but were looked down upon. Later one of the survivors made a statement saying that the reason they thought it was okay to eat their friends was because, during Communion, you were consuming the flesh of Christ. They figured, if they could do that, they could eat the flesh of their friends.

Years later, they interviewed this guy and asked, “Were you really thinking about Communion when you ate your friends?” He responded, “No, we were hungry. That’s what we were thinking and that’s why we did it.”

Cannibalism can also cause havoc in the food chain, can’t it? Tell us about mad cow disease and its connection to a condition in New Guinea named kuru.

One of the seriously negative aspects of cannibalism is that there are cannibalism-associated diseases, like kuru and mad cow disease. These are degenerative brain disorders, are always fatal, and come from eating nervous tissue that is infected with either prions, if you go for the prion theory, or some as-yet-unidentified virus. Both of these arguments are strong and I don’t think that this has been decided.

There are other diseases like scrapie, which you find in sheep, and a spongiform encephalopathy in mink, that do the same thing. In the cattle industry they started to feed ground up entrails from other cows to cattle, as a protein supplement. That is what led to this outbreak of mad cow disease. By consuming meat from these cows, the spongiform encephalopathy disease was transmitted to humans. This caused a huge tragedy in the 1980s in the U.K. and led to a ban on British beef to the U.S., which is only just now about to be lifted.

This same type of disease almost wiped out an indigenous group in New Guinea called the Fore. When the scientists went in and started to study this, they realized that what they were seeing in the brains of these kuru victims was very similar to the effects of mad cow disease. Over the course of about nearly two decades, they put together the theory that funerary cannibalism among the Fore, especially kids and women, who were involved in the preparation of the corpses and cannibalizing body parts including the brain, was causing this horrible disease. Once they got it out to them that this was probably not a good thing to be doing, and laws were passed against eating their dead brethren, the disease was curtailed and the Fore did not become extinct. These spongiform encephalopathies serve as a negative selection pressure against cannibalism.

praying mantises

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You end the book on a somber note: Climate change may eventually lead to famine-related cannibalism. Connect the dots for us.

I don’t want to make it sound like an assertion that this is going to happen. But if you look at the key reasons why cannibalism occurs across nature, it is usually due to overcrowding or a lack of alternative forms of nutrition. In the West we have a layer of culture that prevents us from cannibalizing. But we know that cannibalism has taken place with humans during famine. And with all of the changes that are taking place due to global warming, like desertification, it’s not a stretch that cannibalism might occur if large groups of people were suddenly without food.

What surprised you most in your research? And how did writing this book change your view of your fellow human beings?

In non-human cannibalism, the biggest surprise for me was how widespread it is across nature, for all sorts of reasons other than stress or lack of food. That blew me away. With human cannibalism, what shocked me was how extensive medicinal cannibalism was in Europe for hundreds of years. Human body parts were used right up to the beginning of the 19th century.

I don’t know if it’s changed my view of my fellow human beings. I think, if we didn’t have these Western taboos, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more cannibalism. We’ve certainly been doing it for thousands and thousands of years, under certain circumstances. If those circumstances were to arise again, I can’t see why cannibalism wouldn’t also happen again.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Simon Worrall curates Book Talk. Follow him on Twitter or at



2019 europe cannibalism in

Knowledge cannibalism in the European ICT sector



Based on the sample of the European information and communications technology (ICT) companies, this paper aims to identify which strategy of knowledge generation is most beneficial for companies: internal knowledge development or absorption of knowledge external to the company through corporate acquisition or merger.


In this study, a longitudinal analysis of European ICT companies was conducted, contrasting internal knowledge creation, in the form of patent accumulation and research and development (R&D) efforts, with external learning through merger-and-acquisition (M&A) activities to uncover the best strategies for performance maximization.


Results suggest that the two knowledge generation strategies are not complementary and demonstrate only marginal impact on organizational performance. However, intriguing patterns in combining the two became apparent. It was found that patent accumulation improves learning achieved through M&A activities, while also acting as a protection against corporate takeover. At the same time, the internal knowledge generation strategy was found to have a negative impact on financial performance, with external knowledge generation demonstrating somewhat mixed results.

Practical implications

This paper provides practical insights into the patterns of internal and external knowledge generation activities. The two strategies were found not to be complementary, implying that companies must carefully choose their preferences.


This large-scale study tackles the interplay between internal and external knowledge generation strategies, which are mostly studied separately. It reveals new patterns in corporate acquisition and divestment strategies as sources of new knowledge. It also ties the knowledge paradigm to organizational performance.



Sincere gratitude of the authors goes to blind reviewers for their insightful comments. Authors would especially like to thank guest editor Dr Nataša Rupčić for her continuous help in developing the paper. This research was supported by the European Regional Development Fund.


Kiisk, V. and Rungi, M. (2020), "Knowledge cannibalism in the European ICT sector", The Learning Organization, Vol. 27 No. 4, pp. 305-319.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited

Cannibalism in Uganda

Remains in German murder case show signs of cannibalism

German prosecutors say there is evidence of cannibalism in the killing of a 44-year-old man whose remains were found in Berlin this month.

A 41-year-old man was arrested at his home on Thursday on suspicion of murder with sexual motives, close to the site where the victim’s bones were found.

“The suspect had an interest in cannibalism,” Berlin prosecutors’ office spokesman Martin Steltner said. “He searched online for the topic.”

Steltner said it was unclear whether the victim had also had an interest in cannibalism. The two men, both Germans, had been in touch with each other online via a chat forum called Planet Romeo, according to a report in Der Spiegel.

On 8 November a walker had chanced upon the skeletal remains of a human leg on a field on the northern outskirts of Berlin, near the border with Brandenburg state.

On the bones investigators discovered bite marks, though they said it was still unclear if they were human or from an animal.

The remains were those of a 44-year-old high-voltage technician who had gone missing from his shared apartment in Berlin’s Lichtenberg district on 5 September.

A search involving specially trained sniffer dogs eventually led police to the apartment of the 41-year-old suspect, a maths and chemistry teacher at a secondary school, where they discovered knives, a bone cutter saw used by surgeons, and an oversized cooling box.

The Bild newspaper reported that investigators had also discovered 25kg of sodium hydroxide, a reagent that can be used to dissolve bodily tissue. The suspect reportedly claimed he had wanted to make soap.

The full names of the victim and the suspect haven’t been released for privacy reasons.

Reports of the arrest have evoked parallels to the infamous case of the “Rotenburg cannibal”. In 2006, a German court convicted Armin Meiwes of murder and disturbing the peace for killing a man he had met online and eating him. Meiwes is serving a life sentence.

Unlike the suspect arrested over the Berlin murder, Meiwes had been quick to talk to prosecutors and share details of his obsession.

In 2015, a German police officer was convicted of murder for killing a man he met in an internet chat forum devoted to cannibalism. Prosecutors said the victim had fantasised about being eaten but there was no evidence the suspect actually did so.


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Band Photo

George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher: Vocals
Erik Rutan: Guitar
Rob Barrett: Guitar
Alex Webster: Bass
Paul Mazurkiewicz: Drums

Violence Unimagined. The title tells you everything you need to know about Cannibal Corpse's fifteenth hellish opus. Comprised of eleven tracks, it is state of the art death metal played with passion and breathless precision, making for another flawless addition to what is inarguably one of the premier catalogues the genre has thrown up. "It really follows the path we've been going down for a few years now," states bassist and founding member Alex Webster. "I think we approach the writing in a similar way most every time: each of us try to write the heaviest, most memorable songs we can. We want each song to have its own identifiable character. Showing my age, I like to say you can 'drop the needle' on any point of one of our albums and quickly tell which song you're listening to."

Ever improving on the genre they helped define, 2017's Red Before Black stands as one of the highlights of their career. Following it up wasn't exactly easy, but Cannibal Corpse have somehow managed to raise the bar yet again. The opening "Murderous Rampage" lives up to its title while the uglier than hell "Condemnation Contagion" practically falls over itself in its hurry to draw blood, and alternately, the lurching, catchy and gloriously chaotic "Ritual Annihilation" is pulverizing. While they continue to do what they do with aplomb, the one substantial change to Cannibal Corpse in 2020 is the addition of guitarist Erik Rutan to their ranks, joining Webster, founding drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz, guitarist Rob Barrett and vocalist George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher. Known for his roles in Morbid Angel, Ripping Corpse and most notably fronting the mighty Hate Eternal, Rutan has long established himself as one of the most dynamic forces in contemporary death metal. Simultaneously, he has built up a reputation as one of the most in demand producers in metal, having previously produced four Cannibal Corpse albums, alongside the likes of Goatwhore, Soilent Green and Belphegor. Filling in live on guitar since 2019, in 2020 he became a full member, contributing to the writing process. "I think the most noticeable difference on this record will be the addition of Erik to the band. He wrote three full songs for the record, music and lyrics, and his song writing and guitar playing have added something new, and I think his musical style integrated into ours very well," Webster enthuses. This is not all that he brings to the band. "He's a great friend of ours, so on a personal level, he's been a perfect fit, as we knew he would be. Beyond that, he's one of the hardest working people I know, in music or otherwise, and he maintains a high energy, positive demeanor in challenging situations where other people might go in a negative direction. This energy and great attitude rubs off on the rest of us as well. That's really a perfect situation to have when you add someone to a band, or any kind of team: someone who's great at what they do, and also inspires the people around them." Already well known for the level of extreme technicality they bring to every record, on Violence Unimagined, Cannibal Corpse have further upped their game, particularly in Mazurkiewicz's drumming. "I think we all pushed ourselves a bit technically on this one, with Paul probably pushing the hardest. This album is probably the most drum-intense album we've done yet. Part of that could be a result of Erik joining the band. His song writing style often features technically challenging drumming, probably owing to his years of experience in high speed death metal." And with typically dark and warped lyrical content, Mazurkiewicz came up with the fitting title of the record, "summing up what the band is about in every facet, and taking violence to another level of extremity."

With Rutan in the band, having him produce the record was a no-brainer at Mana Recording in St. Petersburg, FL - his central base of operation. Using the studio for pre-production, rather than their rehearsal space as usual, was a great benefit early on, allowing them to come into the actual recording process better prepared than ever before. However, their plans to record the album entirely together were interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, with Webster forced to record his bass tracks in his home studio. "I live on the other side of the country now, and that hadn't been an issue prior to the pandemic, I was still able to go to Florida whenever I needed to. So, I was scheduled to fly down for the recording in early April 2020, and of course that was at the very beginning of all of the lockdowns and travel restrictions in the USA, so I didn't go. Fortunately I have a lot of experience recording bass tracks at home, so it didn't affect the sound of the album at all. I stayed in close contact with Erik and the other guys throughout the process, and it actually wound up being quite smooth. Of course I'm looking forward to tracking in the big studio with the guys for the next album, but I'm glad this option worked well for us." And it would not be a Cannibal Corpse album without striking artwork from Vince Locke, and Violence Unimagined is no different - this time, the cover featuring a mother eating her own baby, though Webster concedes that for censorship reasons, they have had Locke do a complimentary piece that will be more widely released.

Now in their thirty-second year of existence, Webster still has the same hunger to tour, and though unable to do so while the Covid-19 crisis continues, the bassist hopes that not too much more time passes before they are able to get back on the road. Regardless, he is looking ahead and not to the band's past. "We're very excited to continue this new chapter of the band with Erik on board. I think that a band should always be working to improve and trying to make whatever they're currently doing the best thing they've done, so that's what we'll do."


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