In 1987, scientists discovered a collection of discarded animal bones, dating back some 14,000 years. These bones displayed human-made marks where the meat had been cut from the bone. But scientists were shocked when they found human remains here too, showing the same tool markings – human flesh had also been stripped for consumption.
Cannibalism – the eating of human flesh by another human being – is one of man’s ultimate taboos. What would drive someone to eat another person?
Well, people groups have practiced cannibalism for a wide range of reasons… It’s believed that the Aztecs engaged in cannibalism to appease their Gods (and, according to legend, emperor Moctezuma preferred human thighs with tomatoes and chili pepper sauce). In Australian tribes, it’s said that cannibalism was an attempt to gain the powers of the individuals being eaten – so eating a human brain offered new knowledge, a heart increased bravery. Other people (such as the Samo) were afraid of sorcery, and killed and ate suspected magic men and women. Cannibalism has also been carried out for medicinal purposes, revenge killings and religious ceremonies.
Cannibalism can also be observed in the animal kingdom – the Humboldt squid will eat its own, especially if they are injured. And, technically speaking, if you’ve ever nibbled on a finger nail or eaten a bit of your own hair, that’s known as auto cannibalism or self-cannibalism.
Cannibalism was once commonplace around the world, from England to Papua New Guinea. But do cannibals still exist?
Some of the most recent accounts of cannibal activity come from tribal populations on the island of New Guinea, an island that sits just north of the Australian continent. Do indigenous groups, deep in the remote jungles, still practice cannibalism?
Find out on the premiere of Eating with Cannibals tonight, Sunday April 3rd, at 9:00 PM et/pt on the National Geographic Channel!