June 18, 2011

Ritual cannibalism among early Crimean Homo sapiens

Stratigraphic sequence of Buran Kaya III
New research about the earliest documented Homo sapiens of Crimea:

The paper deals mainly with the cave of Buran-Kaya III in the wider context of the Crimean transition from Middle to Upper Paleolithic.

Importantly the remains of several anatomically modern humans were found, mostly skulls and mandibles, which showed signs of cannibalism. The fact that these remains were treated differently from saigas (an antelope, food) clearly indicates that we are before ritual cannibalism and not dietary one. These bones have produced dates of c. 32,000 BP (almost 36,000 years ago after calibration).

Besides the issue of ritual cannibalism, the site shows a peculiar sequence with a Micoquian layer placed between a Szeletian and an Aurignacian one. While Szeletian (similar to Chatelperronian) is considered an Upper Paleolithic industry, the Micoquian with its heavy hand axes is thought of as a Middle Paleolithic one, reason why archaeologists raise their eyebrows when finding it above (after) a Szeletian layer. 

However I must say here that both cultures would probably be attributed to Neanderthals by most experts, while this would not be the case with the Aurignacian which sits on top of them. 

After the Aurignacian layer we arrive to the Gravettian one, which is the context in which the remains of seemingly cannibalized Homo sapiens were found. This layer has also produced personal ornaments made of mammoth ivory. 

Overall Buran-Kaya III has produced some 23,000 artifacts.

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