Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mother's Day From the Krapina Cannibals

What a tasty Neanderthal treat!
It's Mother's Day and so naturally the blog would have back to back posts about Cannibals. Like the Cannibalism at Předmostí, there is debate over whether or not there was actual Cannibalism with some claiming that the bone fragments found there can be explained by other sources. Unlike the Předmostí site which I didn't do a whole bunch of researching on, I spent a little bit more time on looking at the Krapina site.

The site, which is located in the Northern Croatian county of Krapina-Zagorge, which in the language means "Upland", something rather special to me. But that is neither here nor there. Archeologist and paleontologist (whose Ross' character on Friends was loosely based on) Dragutin Gorjanović-Kramberger unearthed over 800 specimens from the Neanderthal branch of human beings. Like the site at Předmostí, many of these bones were fragmentary in nature, having been crushed or even bones showing indentations that look a lot like teeth marks. Alongside of the Neanderthal remains were tools and bones of wild animals like bears, moose and beavers. Kramberger put forth the speculation that these bones proved some cannibalistic tendencies among Neanderthals. Couple this with the other major site supporting Neanderthal's desire for Neanderthal stew at Moula-Guercy in France and we've got ourselves a workable hypothesis that Neanderthals were both hunter-gatherers and cannibals. This in turn makes me envision a sort of chicken cordon bleu type meal with Neanderthal stuffed Beaver being served up as the Friday early-bird special.

Thanks mom, for
always making my
school lunches. BTW
have you seen Dad?
But, the evidence of cannibalism at Předmostí and Krapina is disputable. There are alternative theories and strong rebuttals to the Hannibal Lector thesis. First, it is possible that the scraping on the bones at both sites was caused by mortuary defleshing, a truly horrific sounding word for the practice of removing the flesh and muscles from the bones when the dead were prepared for burial. It is hard to recreate Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon religion, but both practiced ritual burial so this is a distinct possibility. Other proposals have been put forward by the German Jörg Orschiedt stating there are a number of reasons for the fragmentary nature of the bones at Krapina. He suggested that the cut marks on many of the bodies are inconsistent with either mortuary defleshing or food preparation. He also thinks that some of the cut marks occurred in the much more recent past than at the time of the Neanderthals. In addition to this he puts forth evidence that the parts that are missing occur too often to be a statistical anomaly. He suggests that rather than these bodies having been buried in any type of ritual pattern they were simply just discarded from time to time. Also some of the teeth marks look more like animal bites than human activity. While this doesn't completely upend the Cannibal theory of Kramberger, it takes a sizable chunk out of its evidence in small, bite size portions.

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