Monday, January 24, 2005

Prehistoric cannibalism triggered human evolution?

you, uh...gonna finish that?

Archeologists, who excavated a settlement of ancient people in Central Russia, found many bones on the site. There was nothing unusual about the finding at all: the bones were the remains of animals that people of the Stone Age ate. Specialists, however, were surprised to find human bones among animal bones too. Scientists did not make any special conclusions about it; they simply mentioned the strange fact in their reports.

Modern people prefer not to think about cannibalism. They simply refer to it as a vestige of ancient history, or a horrible tribal ritual. It is a rather uncivilized point of view indeed. The majority of animals do not eat their own species, although humans used to practice cannibalism commonly.

Anthropologists and historians come to realize that cannibalism was an evolutionally motivated phenomenon. Darwin presumed that hunting was one of incentives to spur the evolution. Darwin's proponents were evolving his theory by the example of Australopithecus - one of our oldest hominid ancestors, an intermediate between Man and ape. This ape-looking creature was using stone tools: primitive scrapers and cut stones. Needless to say that it was extremely hard to hunt for prey with the use of a scraper or a stone. The tools were basically used for smashing tubular bones and skulls to take out animal protein-rich marrow. In other words, it does not go about the classic perception of hunting: ancient humans were eating their own species. Australopithecus used to eat fresh carrion or animals that predators killed. It is an open secret that predators eat soft tissues of the prey, but they cannot reach the marrow. Australopithecus was smart enough to smash animals' bones with stones and eat the marrow.

Scientists believe that animal protein made for the development of muscles, the growth of brain and the increase of aggressiveness. Neanderthal men were peculiar for their aggressive conduct; they were waging territorial wars with each other. Piles of smashed and burnt human bones can often be found on the places, where Neanderthal men used to stay. The bones are probably the remains of enemies that prehistoric humans killed and ate. Certain tribes of New Guinea still practice this kind of military cannibalism. US scientist Richard Marlar from Colorado successfully proved that Neanderthal men were eating their own species. Scientists found molecules of human haemoglobin in fossilized excrement of Neanderthal men. Haemoglobin could find itself there only if a prehistoric individual had another one for dinner.

Story here.

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