Tuesday, September 28, 2010
The Other, Other White Meat OR If You Can't Beat 'Em, Eat 'Em; whichever you find creepier.
We seem to forget, all too often, that human beings are just tall, naked, arguably intelligent animals. We may have developed a civilization based on social niceties, but you go back far enough and you’ll find that our ancestors had no issue with smashing each other’s skulls open and feasting on delicious brains. Scientists in Spain have uncovered 800,000 year-old remains that suggest ancestors of modern day Homo Sapiens were cannibals. While traditional views of cannibalism usually attribute it to primal religious ceremonies and occasions of limited food sources, the diverse selection of mammal skeletons found along with the human bones leads researchers to believe that groups ate other people as a way of thinning out competitive tribes. The area the bones were found in would have had plenty of food sources that didn’t involve roasting the neighbors and the fact that all the remains were dumped together strongly suggests that the site of burial was not in fact a religious location where cannibalistic rituals would have taken place. Even more intriguing/disturbing, depending on who you are, is that cut marks at the base of discovered skulls indicate that the brains were consumed along with meat and marrow.
On a personal level, I think the whole thing is pretty cool if not a little bit weird. Eating a fellow citizen is certainly frowned upon in the modern world, and with good reason, but if warring tribes were bound to kill each other in land disputes anyway, why not eat the dead? After all, we’re a good source of nutrition. Make no mistake, people are bones and blood and guts and meat just like all the other animals we eat. What makes a human so different from a cow or pig? Surely there’s something to be said for a frontal lobe and an opposable thumb, but you can walk into any fast food chain in America and be greeted by an altar of fried chicken carcasses sitting right behind the cash registers.
Ultimately, it may not be immediately clear how recent discoveries about ancient cannibalistic cultures, affect us in the modern world. However, we need to consider that cannibalism is still around today. Tribes that have remained isolated from technological advancement and industrialization still eat humans. The example of the Kombai tribe; shown in the video, eat the dead as a sign of respect. Other instances of contemporary cannibalism range from cases of necessity when people are stranded without basic resources, to situations of mental illness. This may stem from a darker side of the human condition but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to gain from it. In the same way that knowledge of cannibalistic tendencies in our ancestors may tell us about our own evolution and how mankind inherited the Earth, modern psychology’s analysis of cannibalism as associated with deviant behavior along the lines of insanity. Anthropophagy (cannibalism) has occurred in several wars of the past century and raises serious issues as to what’s acceptable in society. Beyond that, man eating is a constant theme throughout various religions and can be found in mythology from around the world. Consumption of our fellow man horrifies us, but non-the-less we are fascinated by it. In the modern world we view cannibalism with such disdain that those who we consider cannibals are seen as less then human. That’s ironic since apparently eating other people has been part of our history since before the modern human being had even evolved.