Research scientists have discovered that almost one million years ago an ancient human relative, Homo antecessor, ate humans “in preference” to other animals.

Inhabiting hunting planes in what is today Spain some 900,000 years ago, Homo antecessor hunted and ate their own kind, providing scientists with the oldest evidence of cannibalism . These shocking findings were published in the June 2019 issue of the  Journal of Human Evolution and the paper suggests human flesh was “nutritious” and that humans were “easier targets than other types of large prey .”

Jesús Rodríguez, Ana Mateos and Guillermo Sorrel, scientists at the Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana (CENIEH), analyzed the cannibalistic behavior of our million year old ancestors from evidence gathered at the Spanish archaeological site Gran Dolina. The bones of seven Homo antecessor individuals were found to have “human tooth marks” and fractures that were caused to expose the bone marrow.

Those bones, according to the paper, “were mixed with bones representing nine other mammal species; 22 individuals that also had been butchered and eaten.” The CENIEH researchers strategy began with examining many pre-existing studies which demonstrate how animals feeding strategies are adapted to achieve the optimal “cost-benefit balance”. This was the basis upon which their new models were built to study cannibalism in Homo antecessor populations.

With an abundance of prey to hunt and eat, why did humans choose to eat humans?

Attempting to answer this perplexing question, computer models generated the calorific intake that H. antecessor require per day, which yielded “the caloric payoffs of various animals including humans” compared with the energy expended to catch them (calories used). They speculated that  H. antecessor  hunters targeted prey based on the most expected calories for the least effort spent to get it.

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