Burials and cannibals and flints, oh my!

14029147072_05ef3327af_oAs part of our trip to London for an excellent CSI event, Ryan and I decided to visit the Natural History Museum’s temporary exhibition (on until 28th September 2014) called Britain: one million years of the human story.

It was quite wonderful and had many gorgeous specimens that have been excavated from around Britain, covering the various settlers of Britain: Homo heidelbergensis, Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens. These specimens ranged from contemporary wildlife that these species would have hunted, plants that would have grown in these areas, and the tools that these species would have made to survive their environments.

Of course, with this being a death blog, I do have some highlights from the exhibition which I hope will encourage you to go along and visit!

Skulls, skulls, skulls!

There were so many skulls about the place.

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What a good comparison! We were encouraged to touch these replicas which was good fun.

One of my favourite specimens was the 400,000 year old skull of a Neanderthal woman. What you can’t necessarily see in my photo is the fact that you can see the imprint of her brain and blood vessels on the inside of her skull. Absolutely gorgeous. Did you know that the Neanderthals looked after their sick and buried their dead?

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Oldest known burial in Britain

Also on display was the earliest known burial in Britain. This gentleman was buried around 33,000 years ago and his remains were decorated with shells, dyes and jewellery made from mammoth ivory. It is also one of the earliest examples of humans using some form of ritual with their dead.

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Cannibalism in Britain

Yes, it’s true. Evidence of cannibalism in Britain has been discovered. The specimens on show are almost 15,000 years old but show clear human use. There is a fascinating video on these items as part of the exhibition, but it is clear from similar items found in the same area that the skull was deliberately crafted into a bowl (there is evidence of human made cut marks) and the upper jaw is that of a teenager with cut marks indicating that flesh was removed. It is not clear whether this cannibalism was due to ritual or desperation during a cold winter, but the items on display are quite beautiful.

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Skull bowl

Upper jaw

Upper jaw

So I hope this post has convinced you to check out this amazing exhibition. I always have a fondness for the Natural History Museum because they do some excellent research and work, but this exhibition is definitely superb, even by their normally high standards.

Let us know if you do go and what you thought!

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