EGYPT PRACTICED CANNIBALISM
It was the conclusion reached by British Egyptologist Ernest Wallis Budge, then purchasing agent for the British Museum, based on his interpretation of the finds discovered in 1895 by fellow British archaeologist and competitor Willian Flinders Petrie, a series of graves in the Cemetery T at the predynastic site of Nagad, located 50 kilometers north of Luxor.
However, the use of this practice at a generalized level in Egypt is only revealed in a single specific period, in which the global climate event known as the “Super Niño” took place. A time recorded in Egyptian history as the ” Years of the Jackals ” at the end of the third millennium BC.
This climatic event today is known as “El Niño”. Caused by an abnormal warming of the waters of the eastern and equatorial Pacific. In recent times, the records show a cyclical concurrence, mainly due to the effects of pollution on global warming. This phenomenon changes the patterns of atmospheric flow, which can cause very extreme climatic events in different parts of the globe, both droughts and flood rains.
At that time and in that place, Egypt, it caused a severe drought that lasted a long time, since the end of the Old Kingdom until the beginning of the first Intermediate period.
The shortage of crops, caused a generalized famine that led to the practice of cannibalism in some sectors of the population.
As we say, as far as the investigations have come, this was the only occasion that this practice has been verified in Ancient Egypt, and there is no confirmation of such use at a generalized and continuous level. Which does not rule out that as in the rest of the world and in various times, including those close to our times, a nutritional, medicinal or ritual cannibalism was also occasionally practiced.
WHAT IS BUDGE’S STATEMENT BASED ON
It is mainly based on his interpretation, pertaining to the finding of tomb T5 found intact by Willian Flinders Petrie, in the Predynastic Cemetery of Nagad.
In this tomb Petrie found, in addition to various decorative objects such as jewels and ceramics, the human remains of shredded and “gnawed” bodies. This fact suggested to Budge that these bodies had been dismembered and eaten to bits by humans, not animals, as would more likely have been. This fact, according to him, definitely confirmed the practice of cannibalism in Egypt.
To support his argument, he relied on a text by the Greek historian and philosopher Plutarch, who lived between 46 and 127 AD, who, thanks to his many trips around the world, also knew Egypt. The text in question to which Budge relies for his claim, describes some painted scenes found in a pyramid of a pharaoh, which represent a typical Egyptian funerary banquet.
The famous words of Plutarch ” mummy at the banquet ” to which Budge made reference and on which his statement was based, describes awell-known Egyptian custom, that of placing the mummy in question next to the diners on the day of their funeral.
Although for some, and with good reason, this custom could be objectionable, it was a common custom in Ancient Egypt, so it is possible to think that those words of Plutarch could only refer to this custom, and not to the consumption of the viscera or body parts of the deceased removed in the embalming process, as Budge suggests.
We have to bear in mind that the practice of cannibalism was precisely against the beliefs and religion of Ancient Egypt. In particular, the preservation not only of the viscera, but also of the entire body, through mummification, was an essential procedure, without which, according to their beliefs, the soul of the deceased could not pass to the Land of the Dead, and go on living forever.
Moreover, this belief was so ingrained in the mentality of the ancient Egyptians, that not only the wealthiest and most important hired expert embalmers and paid large sums of money for it, also the lower class people practiced it in a more inexpensive and modest way, the deceased was wrapped in homemade cloths after drying in the sun, smeared with oils and beeswax.
From what we know, and it is less likely that cannibalism was a common practice among the Egyptian population of that period, although there is always the possibility that it was practiced with slaves and outsiders. We just have to see how they valued the life of the servants, who put them together with their owner in the tomb of the deceased, and there they died together with their owner, they did the same with their pets, but these were more frequently embalmed. They all accompanied them on their death journey as they did during their lives.
So perhaps in this case, in Ancient Egypt, and especially among powerful deceased such as pharaohs, and important officials, as was the case, that they could afford a more exquisite embalming or, and thus ensure the passage into eternity, the fact that cannibalism occurred is not very convincing. They weren’t going to risk their eternal life.
Which does not rule out the hypothesis that it was practiced with slaves or between less important people, but there is no clear evidence that this was common.
Hence, in such a practice, of mummification, the visceral organs were conserved in the so-called canopic vessels, jars made for their conservation, and the rest of the body, as we know, was subjected to the embalming process, which was precisely intended to keep the body as intact and whole as possible.
So it is possible to think that Budge’s argument is based on his interpretation of the text in question, since the so-called funerary banquets were frequent in the culture of Ancient Egypt, as well as in many ancient cultures in other parts of the world, as in ours too, the traditional agape after the burial.
CANNIBALISM IN HISTORY
Today it is not in doubt that cannibalism has been practiced in many parts of the world and with more intensity in some specific periods or events.
According to the relative investigations in this regard, this practice was common in Mesomerics and South America. In fact, there are numerous historical texts that show it. Without going any further, Christopher Columbus testified that on his first trip, he met the Caribs in La Española, a rival tribe of the Arawak. In their frequent confrontations, he narrated that in addition to the spoils, they captured the children of the Arawaks, castrated them and made them grow, and then ate them.
In fact, it is said that the word cannibalism is attributed to a distortion of the name of this tribe, Caribbean, which in their language meant bold or daring. On the other hand, for the Arawak, it evidently meant enemy, and for Europeans it meant “eaters of human flesh.” It is also known that the Guaraní practiced cannibalism in religious rites.
In Europe there is also evidence of this practice in some archaeological sites, for example in Spain conclusive evidence has been found in the Gran Dolina cave.
As in the case of the American continent, cannibalism in archaic Europe was not only caused by periods of famine, but also by the so-called ancestral gastronomic cannibalism.
Evidence of cannibalism dates back to Neanderthals, in a cave found in France, but it possibly existed earlier, even at the time of Homo antecessor 800,000 years ago.
In the book of Leviticus of the Bible it is narrated how God punished parents for disobedience, making them eat their own child.
On the other hand, there are still great doubts about the motivations of such practice. In general, three main reasons are attributed:
CANNIBALISM FOR SURVIVAL
The occasional famines as occurred in Egypt during the climactic event of the “Gran Niño”. Isolation conditions due to accidents, shipwrecks, and as a consequence lack of food, as in the famous accident that occurred in the Andes in 1971, or the case of the shipwreck of the yacht Mignonette in 1884, or that of 1961, when a group of Cuban exiles were at the drift resorted to cannibalism in order to survive,
as well as the cannibalism in war situations such as the cases that occurred during the 900-day Nazi siege of the Russian city of Leningrad during WWII. How many situations of this type have occurred in the past without being aware of them. Having more current evidence is easier.
CANNIBALISM FOR GASTRONOMY
That is, integrated into the diet as another food, or that should be used, not to waste the food resources available.
Today the shadow of the urban legend of the”exotic” restaurants remains latent. Researchs confirms that it already was a culinary diversion among the wealthy Victorian society.
The controversial clandestine tasting meetings in restaurants like the Bartolini in London, where rich weirdos experimented with new flavors, and even consumed it for a period of time as an experimental diet, after which, they ensured a considerable increase in health and energy. According to the information collected, the participants assured that the bodies destined for consumption were collected in the morgue, recent victims of attacks.
A more recent case is also known, in Nigeria, where the police closed a restaurant that offered human heads on its menu, and in fact found two heads wrapped in plastic.
AND CANNIBALISM FOR RITUAL
The ritual cannibalism, capable to somehow absorb energy, health, certain powers, or even the soul, as in the case of the Guarani, or to instill fear and terrorize enemies, such as the famous and controversial video of Congo, where a rebel bit the heart of their enemy.
Also the case of the well-known “medical cannibalism”, which arose in the Middle Ages, and very popular in seventeenth- century Europe, where public executions provided blood, fat and fresh meat, where sick people with various ailments came with glasses and knives to stock up on the coveted morsel, a remedy for their illnesses.
In fact the practice of hematophagy, the consumption of human blood, as well as fat and meat, has been common in Europe for centuries. Even in 1924 isstill a German pharmaceutical company had on its list of catalogs of products, the “mummy powder” famous, the flagship of the time, even the kings of France consumed it.
Keep in mind that determining an intention in each of the findings and events is a complicated task that is not devoid of inaccuracies.
The information available on the context of the events is scarce. Attempts to give an explanation are based mainly in the case of ancestors, in the archaeological remains that are left.
For example, the marks on the bones found that indicate biting could probably be from animals.
In fact, it is known that in Ancient Egypt it was also common to bury the pharaoh or important person with their slaves sacrificed, and also live animals, deer, sheep, to serve as food during the great trip, such as mummified, pets or animals considered “sacred”, Cats, lions, crocodiles, etc. that served to keep them company and a good omen.
But at the same time, the possibility that some scavenger animal, attracted by the smell, entered the cabin and devoured both the animals and the human bodies of the servants cannot be ruled out. This would also explain the disappearance of some parts of the bodies, since animals tend to take the food to a quieter place to eat it without threats around.
Some methods of study within the taxonomy try to identify if there has been a human manipulation bone while their flesh was eaten. From what is known so far, the bones found in this tomb do not show such signs.
Despite the weakness of his claims, Budge was convinced that in the Old Egypt cannibalism was practiced. A conviction that both in his time and now fuels the controversy around his highly controversial cultural and racial prejudices, which the Egyptologist is known to have towards Africans in general, and Egyptians in particular.
Prejudices clearly evidenced precisely by his insistence in this regard, that is, in highlighting the nature, which according to him, the people of this place had, which drove them to cannibalism or antropofagia. Practice that as archaeological finds show existed throughout Europe, and was not exclusive to Africa or America, even in England, Budge’s birthplace, was practiced.
What’s more, curiously at the time of Budge, the consumption of a particular “magic” remedy, a yellowish powder, a kind of saint’s hand, which cured all kinds of ailments, became fashionable among the most snobbish population in Europe, thefamous “mummy dust“, already mentioned before.
That it was consumed snorted, mixed with honey, wine, water, or even the mummy was eaten directly into pieces. What was that but cannibalism? Who knows if he also consumed it, being an Egyptologist, he had to experiment and know everything about the mummies, including their taste.
CANNIBALISM IN ENGLAND
As in other places in Europe, ancient caves and caves reveal curious finds. In this case the Cheddar Gorge, located in the mountains of Somerset, in the south of England has been revealed the quintessential place of evidence of cannibalism in England in archaic times.
Rocky cliffs, calcareous caves and endless valleys that hide a sinister past. Strangely, very close to Budge’s birthplace.
Ancestral cultures that existed 12,000 and 17,000 years ago, which, according to archaeological investigations carried out, practiced cannibalism.
This is demonstrated by the finds found in Gough’s Cave. The antropofagia was present in this cave makes 15,000 years, as a cultural practice.
Bony remains of disarticulated, emaciated and crushed human bodies, perhaps to remove the internal marrow. Numerous adults, two adolescents and even a child of about three years, with obvious marks of having been chewed. Some of the skulls were used as ” skull cups “, makeshift drinking glasses, perhaps potions in ancient religious rituals.
This cave was discovered in 1880, shortly before Budge began work on the British Museum; by then it was destined to the recreation of tourists interested more in the beauty offered by both the external pl aces of the cliffs and the intern al ones, so it was not of archaeological interest at the time. Too bad, if the mummy dust from his time had been overlooked, perhaps this other evidence was the final one for Budge to see the facts more objectively.
In 1980, however, excavations were resumed, and it was then that clear signs of cannibalism were detected at the site.
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