(ORDO NEWS) — The oldest human DNA known to date from Britain comes from two separate groups, one of which may have practiced cannibalism, according to a new study.
Researchers in London analyzed the DNA of two deceased Britons who lived towards the end of the ancient Stone Age. One was found in Gough’s Cave in Somerset and the other in Kendrick’s Cave in North Wales.
Experts say the Gough Cave Man was a woman and lived 14,900 years ago, while the Kendrick Cave Man was a man and lived 13,600 years ago.
The results show that they each belonged to a separate group that migrated to Britain at the end of the last ice age, and both had very different dietary habits.
The Gough Cave Woman was part of a group that probably practiced cannibalism, while the diet of the second group consisted primarily of marine and freshwater foods.
The new study was led by experts from the Natural History Museum , University College London (UCL) and the Francis Crick Institute and published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.
“We really wanted to know more about what these first populations in Britain might have been,” said study author Dr Selina Brace of the Natural History Museum.
It was known from previous research that Western hunter-gatherers lived in Britain some 10,500 years before the present.
But scientists didn’t know when these people first arrived in Britain, or if that was the only population present there.
DNA from the Gough Cave man indicates that her ancestors were part of the original migration to northwestern Europe.
Meanwhile, the Kendrick Cave Man is from a later period, about 13,500 years ago, and his ancestors are descended from a group known as “Western hunter-gatherers” whose ancestors originate in the Middle East. The study showed that these populations differed not only genetically, but also culturally.
“Bone chemistry showed that the Kendrick Cave people ate a lot of marine and freshwater food, including large marine mammals,” study author Dr. Rhiannon Stevens of UCL said.
“The people at Gough Cave, by contrast, showed no signs of eating marine and freshwater foods, and mostly ate terrestrial herbivores such as red deer, bovids (such as wild cattle called aurochs) and horses,” he continued.
There were no animal bones in Kendrick’s Cave indicating that they had been eaten by humans, indicating that the cave was used as a burial site by its inhabitants.
Among the animal bones found were portable pieces of art, such as a decorated lower jaw of a horse.
In contrast, animal and human bones found in Gough’s Cave showed significant human modifications, including human skulls that were transformed into “bowls” and interpreted as evidence of ritual cannibalism.
These people were part of populations that arrived in Britain several thousand years after the Last Glacial Maximum, a major climatic event when temperatures plummeted about 20,000 years ago.
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