Humans made cup skulls up to 4,000 years ago

Humans made cup skulls up to 4,000 years ago

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The use of human skulls to celebrate rituals It has been documented in numerous archaeological sites of different ages and geographical areas. Its practice could be related to beheading to obtain war trophies, the production of masks as decorative elements (even with engravings) or what is known asgoblet skulls.

In fact, some past societies considered human skulls to possesspowers or life force, and were sometimes collected as proof of superiority and authority in violent confrontations. Scientists have been able to recognize possible ceremonial practices thanks to different signs observed in the bones.

The most common modifications related to the ritual treatment of skulls are those produced with stone or metal knives, that is, cut marks, during the extraction of the scalp.

Between the american paleoindiansFor example, this practice is well documented archaeologically and signs of this type have been identified in a circular arrangement around the head.

In Europe, cup skulls have been identified in assemblages ranging from the Upper Palaeolithic, about 20,000 years old, to the Bronze Age, about 4,000 years ago.

Themeticulous fracturing of these skulls suggests that it is not only related to the need to extract the brain for nutritional purposes, but that they were produced in a concrete and intentional way as containers or glasses.

This is verified in a study carried out by a team led by the IPHES (Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution), which has developed astatistic analysis to evaluate whether the cut marks on skull fragments of level TD6.2 from Gran Dolina in Atapuerca, Gough's Cave (Great Britain), Fontbrégoua (France), Herxheim (Germany), and El Mirador Cave also in Atapuerca, respond to asystematic elaboration.

The results, published in the journalJournal of Archaeological Science, conclude that these brands certainly respond to aconcrete pattern in the more recent chronological sites, and in a way of treating skulls that lasted almost 15,000 years.

A specific pattern to create glasses

The study has consideredthe bone as a map on which surface modifications can be distributed and it has been assessed whether it was possible to identify a specific pattern for the manufacture of goblet skulls, comparing evidence from the different sets mentioned above. Thus, specific modifications related to human behavior have been identified and the importance of locating cut marks in specific areas of the skulls has been statistically described.

It's about thegrooves made with stone tools, which were performed mainly during the meticulous and repeated extraction of the scalp and meat, actions that indicate the intense cleaning of skulls in the specific cases of Gough’s Cave, Fontbrégoua, Herxheim and La Cueva del Mirador. However, this pattern has not been observed on the remains ofHomo antecessor from level TD6.2.

The systematic fabrication of goblet skulls began with the extraction of the scalp and continued with the extraction of muscle tissue. Finally, the elaboration of the skulls ended with thefracturing to preserve the thickest part of the cranial vault.

Currently, the use to which these container-shaped bones were used is unknown. The repetition of this pattern provides new evidence of the preparation of the skulls for ritual practices, associated in most cases to thehuman cannibalism during prehistory recent.


Marginedas, F., Rodríguez-Hidalgo, A., Soto, M., Bello, SM, Cáceres, I., Huguet, R., Saladié, P., 2020. «Making skull cups: Butchering traces on cannibalised human skulls from five European archaeological sites ».Journal of Archaeological Science. 114: 105076. DOI: 10.1016 / j.jas.2020.105076.

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