Why did these past human species engage in the practice of cannibalism? Dr Cole said: “Human cannibalism is a subject that continues to hold a morbid fascination within modern societies. In particular, identifying the motivations for human cannibalism remains a contentious issue.
“In modern humans, cannibalism has been related to any combination of the following: survival, psychotic or criminal, aggressive, spiritual or ritual, gastronomic or dietary, and medicinal.
“Cannibalism is not, however, purely a characteristic of modern humans and has been practiced by a range of hominin species from at least one million years ago.”
Dr Cole, an expert in human origins and Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at the university, assessed the calorie value of the human body: A 65kg or 10 stone human has approximately 32,000 calories in their muscle tissue compared to 163,000 calories in the muscle tissue of a deer and an estimated 3.6 million calories for the muscle tissue of a mammoth.
The results question the idea that our ancestors hunted and consumed members of their own species for strictly nutritional reasons given the much greater calorie return from the faunal species we know were commonly consumed in the past.