The First Art Newspaper on the Net   Established in 1996 United States Tuesday, October 16, 2018

London's Natural History Museum: Earliest Human Skull-Cups Made in the UK
Skull bowl. Copyright Natural History Museum

LONDON.- One of the human skull-cups made by ice age Britons 14,700 years ago unearthed from Gough's Cave. The process required great skill and knowledge of anatomy. The 3 cups are made out of 14,700-year-old human skulls and were found in Gough’s Cave in Cheddar Gorge, Somerset. They would have been used by ice age Britons and this is the first evidence of human skull-cup manufacture in the UK.

The human skulls belonged to 2 adults and 1 child and a precise replica of one of the adult skull-cups will go on display in the Natural History Museum from 1 March 2011 for 3 months.

Making containers out of human skulls may sound gruesome but the practice is well known worldwide. It has been documented from the Vikings and Scythians to recent peoples, and other potential skull-cups have previously been unearthed.

However, archaeological evidence of the details of this practice is extremely rare and this new research reveals for the first time the intricate process of skull-cup manufacture.

Gruesome but highly skilled
Dr Silvia Bello, Museum fossil human expert (palaeoanthropologist) and lead author of the paper, explains, ‘We suspected that these early humans were highly skilled at manipulating human bodies once they died, and our research reveals just what great anatomists they were.

‘The cut-marks and dents show how the heads were scrupulously cleaned of any soft tissues shortly after death.

‘The skulls were then modified by removing the bones of the face and the base of the skull.

‘Finally, these cranial vaults were meticulously shaped into cups by retouching the broken edges, possibly to make them more regular. All in all it was a very painstaking process given the tools available.’

Cannibalism or ritual?
The team also found evidence that suggests some of the removed flesh was eaten. There were de-fleshing signs on the crania (skulls) associated with the removal of soft tissue, and extraction of bone marrow for nutritional purposes.

Dr Bello explains, ‘There is clear evidence that human remains at Gough’s Cave were treated in a complex way involving cannibalism and manufacture of skull-cups.’

However, cannibalism doesn't seem to be the main purpose for the modifications of the skulls. At sites where evidence for cannibalism has been found, skulls are broken into pieces and there is often damage at the top of the skull from an impact.

‘At Gough’s Cave, there was clear determination to preserve the cranial vault as complete as possible. It is likely that this was part of some symbolic ritual and not mere necessity,’ says Bello.

Professor Chris Stringer, Museum human origins expert who was part of this research team, and helped excavate one of the skulls, says the amount of work that went into making the skull-cups suggests a special purpose rather than just nutritional, and comparing them to other recent finds, they may have been used to hold blood, wine or food during rituals.

He adds, ‘We do not know the exact circumstances for Gough’s. At one extreme were these individuals killed, butchered and eaten, with the skull-cups just the end of this event? Or could these people have been part of a group who had died singly or together, and were eaten, perhaps in a crisis situation, with the skull cups acting as a final tribute to the dead? We simply do not know…’

Who did the 3 skulls belong to?
The skull-cups came from 2 adults and a child about 3 years old. They were early modern humans, Homo sapiens, who in Europe were known as Cro-Magnons. They were skilled hunter-gatherers, tool-makers and artists, and developed complex ways of treating their dead.

New analysis
Two of the skull-cups were excavated from Gough’s Cave in the 1920s and one in 1987. The team carried out new examinations using state-of-the-art microscopy technology at the Museum, and conducted research on historic and recent accounts of skull-cup practices. They found that the skull-cups were modified in extremely similar ways to historic and ethnographic examples where they were used as containers or drinking-cups in ritualistic practices.

Using the latest radiocarbon dating techniques, the skull-cups were found to be about 14,700 years old, which means they are the oldest directly dated examples in the world. This new analysis could be applied to other specimens and means that there maybe older human skull-cup examples waiting to be recognised.

Gough’s Cave site
Gough’s Cave in southwest England is an important archaeological site, used since the 19th century. Archaeological excavations took place there between 1987 and 1992 by Museum and Nottingham University scientists, including the unearthing of much of the material used in this research and Britain's earliest cannibal discoveries.

Gough’s Cave was also home to a modern human known as Cheddar Man whose near-complete skeleton was uncovered there in 1903. He is dated to around 10,000 years ago.

A lot of research in Gough’s Cave has been part of the AHOB (Ancient Human Occupation of Britain) project, including these human skull-cup findings. In 2009, AHOB members revealed that Gough’s Cave was one of the first places humans lived when they returned to Britain after the peak of the last ice age. The AHOB team has just released a new book, The Ancient Human Occupation of Britain.

Today's News

February 18, 2011

The Belvedere in Vienna Dedicates Comprehensive Show to Austrian Artist Egon Schiele

The Museum of Modern Art Announces a Retrospective of Cindy Sherman for 2012

A Collector's Eye: Cranach to Pissarro Exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool

Sylvester Stallone Opens Retrospective Exhibition at Galerie Gmurzynska

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum Presents "Set in Style: The Jewelry of Van Cleef & Arpels"

Metro Pictures Presents Croatian Artist David Maljkovic's Latest Works "Recalling Frames"

Paris Photo Announces New Venue at the Grand Palais and Julien Frydman as Its New Director

Quinn's Auction Galleries to Present International Array of Fine and Decorative Art on March 5

Pobeda Gallery Presents "Face to Face" the First Exhibition of Georgian Photography in Moscow

First Major Exhibition in More Than Thirty Years to Examine Tipis of Plains Peoples

Stefano Cagol's Stockholm Syndrome (always with you) at Priska C. Juschka Fine Art

Alan Cristea Gallery Presents German Artist Christiane Baumgartner: Reel Time

Oscar-Nominated Costumes on View at Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising

Fondazione Forma per la Fotografia Presents the Exhibition "Dies Irae: Photographs by Paolo Pellegrin"

Moore College of Art & Design Receives Largest Endowment Gift In School's History

The Courtauld Gallery Presents Life, Legend, Landscape: Victorian Drawings and Watercolours

Egyptian Antiquities Authorities Say They Found Fourth Stolen Pharaonic Treasure

London's Natural History Museum: Earliest Human Skull-Cups Made in the UK

Akbar Padamsee Masterpiece From 1960 to Lead Sotheby's Indian Art Sale in New York

Exhibition of New Work by Michael Riedel on View at David Zwirner Gallery

Street Artist Banksy's Graffiti Lands in Los Angeles Ahead of Oscars Ceremony

Marilyn Monroe Pin-Up Amazes at $83,000+ in $4.1+ million Illustration Art Event

Scottish Splendour and Belgravia Elegance Meet at Christie's in March Sale

James Cohan Gallery Presents Second Solo Exhibition by Japanese-Born Artist Hiraki Sawa

Aspen Art Museum Presents Artist Mark Manders's Museum-Wide Parallel Occurrences

Barnes Foundation Move Opponents Go Back to Court

Phillips de Pury & Company's London Contemporary Art Evening Auction Totals $8,725,040

Most Popular Last Seven Days

1.- Rare original Star Wars concept art unseen for 35 years may bring $100,000 at Heritage Auctions

2.- Is Robin Cunningham the Mysterious and Unknown Grafitti Artist Banksy?

3.- Banksy shocks art world by shredding £1 million work at auction

4.- Rare sign used on steps when JFK disembarked at Love Field go to auction Oct 13

5.- British curator uncovers rape confession -- 300 years on

6.- Unprecedented loans from the National Portrait Gallery, London, chronicle 500 years of the British monarchy

7.- Kunsthistorisches Museum opens once-in-a-lifetime Pieter Bruegel the Elder exhibition

8.- The tricky process of returning Nazi-looted art

9.- New auction record set for a living female artist

10.- US couple lose bid to win back WWII looted Pissarro painting

Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .


Ignacio Villarreal
Editor & Publisher:Jose Villarreal - Consultant: Ignacio Villarreal Jr.
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez

Royalville Communications, Inc
Founder's Site. The most varied versions
of this beautiful prayer.
to a Mexican poet.

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful