In a Nutshell
Archaeological excavations at a site in Herxheim in southwestern Germany unearthed Stone Age mass graves with hundreds of human remains. The bones showed evidence of cannibalism. Exactly what happened and why these victims were butchered and eaten remains a subject of debate and bafflement.
The Whole Bushel
According to the lead anthropologist’s findings in 2009, the inhabitants of the settlement at Herxheim began expertly skinning and butchering other people—men, women, children, infants, and even a fetus, in around 5000 B.C.
The bones discovered at the site had tool marks showing where the meat had been scraped off. Other bones were broken open to allow access to the marrow, skulls were smashed for possible brain extraction, and the tongues were cut out. Certain patterns on the bones may indicate some of the victims were spit-roasted. While there is no doubt the victims were ritually slaughtered, some archaeologists remain doubtful the meat was consumed.
Distinct pottery fragments found with the bones of at least 500 people indicate the victims weren’t locals. For an unknown reason, they came from all over Europe, drawn to undertake difficult journeys to Herxheim from as far as 400 kilometers (250 mi) away.
Why the victims came to the village and why the people of Herxheim smashed their pottery, killed the people, and chopped them up is a mystery. By 4950 B.C., the small, enigmatic village at Herxheim was abandoned by its inhabitants for reasons which may not ever be determined (but certainly might have something to do with all the ritual sacrifice going on).