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New findings show that Neolithic Man in Antequera were cannibals

Some of the human remains found at the Cueva del Toro.
Some of the human remains found at the Cueva del Toro. / SUR
  • Archaeological research at El Toro cave in El Torcal, led by Martín Socas and Camalich Massieu, has found evidence of cannibalism from that period

An interdisciplinary team in archaeology, anthropology and paleogenetics, led by Dimas Martín Socas and María Dolores Camalich Massieu, has discovered remains in El Toro cave at El Torcal, Antequera, which reveal cannibalistic practices during the Early Neolithic period.

The team found the remains of seven individuals, in two different places, a skull which had been carved into the shape of a bowl or cup, and a jaw, together with containers which had been deposited in the form of an offering.

These archaeological works have enabled experts to document human occupation from the Early Neolithic era (7,000 years ago), when the oldest evidence of cannibalism in agricultural and farming populations has been identified, to the end of the Late Neolithic period, about 5,000 years ago. El Toro cave at El Torcal is a fundamental location for the study of the Neolithic period on the Iberian peninsula.

The results of DNA testing on the remains found in the cave have shown first-degree blood relationships between two of the individuals and this, together with interpretation of the evidence, suggests as a hypothesis that this was a case of aggressive cannibalism linked to violent episodes between groups containing members of the same family; or that it occurred in a family context and they were consumed as part of a funerary ritual.

Dating by the Carbon 14 process indicates a short time period between 5,000 and 4,800 BC, which suggests that both these sites were probably date from the same time of human occupation of the cave.

Those are some of the conclusions of the interdisciplinary team which led the archaeological works, consisting of Jonathan Santana, of Durham University in the UK, Francisco Javier Rodríguez-Santos, of the International Institute of Prehistorical Research of Cantabria (University of Santander) and Rosa Fregel of La Laguna University, also in Spain.

The Cueva del Toro is within the boundaries of the Tierras de Antequera archaeological site, and is located in the mountains of El Torcal, the second of the natural monuments which are included as part of the 'Dolmenes de Antequera' World Heritage Site.

Publications

These works were carried out as part of the Plan Director Research Programme, one of the lines of Research+Development+Innovation which considers the Antequera Dolmens site a priority for studies and general research projects. The research in the Sierra del Sorcal has been supported by the University of La Laguna since the 1970s.

Full results of this finding have been published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, and have also been featured in the Nature magazine.

The cave of El Toro is 1,190 metres above sea level in the Sierra de El Torcal, a large chain of mountains which separates two distinct areas: Mediterranean Andalucía and the Surco Intrabético. It extends along 27 kilometres, with peaks ranging between 800 and 1,400 metres.