Assessing the calorific significance of episodes of human cannibalism in the Palaeolithic

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Abstract

Episodes of Palaeolithic cannibalism have frequently been defined as ‘nutritional’ in nature, but with no available empirical evidence to assess their dietary significance. This paper presents a nutritional template that offers a proxy calorie value for the human body. When applied to the Palaeolithic record, the template provides a framework for assessing the dietary value of prehistoric cannibalistic episodes compared to the faunal record. Results show that humans have a comparable nutritional value to those faunal species that match our typical body weight, but significantly lower than a range of fauna typically found in association with anthropogenically modified hominin remains. This could suggest that the motivations behind hominin anthropophagy may not have been purely nutritionally motivated. It is proposed here that the comparatively low nutritional value of hominin cannibalism episodes support more socially or culturally driven narratives in the interpretation of Palaeolithic cannibalism.
Original languageEnglish
JournalScientific Reports
Volume7
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 6 Apr 2017

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