Saturday, February 19, 2011

Now that's metal!

Don't know exactly what the Ice Agers were drinking out of these vessels Seems like a waste of human resources (heh-heh) to just drink water out of it.

Ice Age folk who lived in what's now southwestern England gruesomely went from heads off to bottoms up.

Bones excavated at a cave there include the oldest known examples of drinking cups or containers made out of human skulls, says a team led by paleontologist Silvia Bello of the Natural History Museum in London.

Measurements of a naturally occurring form of carbon in the skulls places them at about 14,700 years old, Bello and her colleagues report in a paper published online Feb. 16 in PLoS ONE. Prehistoric cave denizens cleaned the skulls before using stone tools to shape the upper parts of the brain cases into containers, the researchers say.

Bello suspects that Ice Age Britons hoisted hollowed-out crania in rituals of some kind. Other human bones found near the skull cups show signs of flesh and marrow removal, a result either of cannibalism or mortuary practices. The striking similarities between the cave finds and historical examples of drinking cups made out of skulls further support a ritual role for the Ice Age receptacles, Bello says.

Two French sites previously yielded skull containers presumed to date to between 15,000 and 12,000 years ago, but those finds have not been directly dated.

You can't tell me they didn't know how badass this would look 20 thousand years later.


susan said...

The only familiarity I have with the use of skulls and human bones in general is from what I've read about sacred objects in Tibetan Buddhism. Essentially, they're used in ritual practices as a reminder of the impermanence of life. What at first appears to be a gruesome idea actually makes a lot of sense with a little thought.

It's kind of weird to think they'd be on a shelf as part of caveman crockery but it doesn't seem unlikely shamanism had something to do with it. I agree it looks pretty badass to modern interpretation.

Ben said...

I think you're right that shamanism probably had something to do with it. Shamanism is in some ways the most accessible form of religion, since instead of an elaborate theory of the spiritual world it's more a matter of "Let's try talking to it." And using the bodies of those who have gone to the other side is a pretty intuitive idea.

Still, the gruesome part is fun.

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