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The digging up collections of old bones excites most archaeologists and, if the bones are human, their day is complete. However, that is only the start of their work, as they now have to take hours to pour over them to decide what has happened to them.

In these days of labs with large instruments, we can now look carefully at the structure of the bones. In the box of Neolithic bones of Bosch et al, they found that the texture of some of the bones was different from others (1).

Intriguing question: what could have occurred to cause the chemical redistribution that a textural change would require? Knowing that the Neolithic guys had a different set of priorities, the questions that popped up were “had they had their neighbor for dinner, and did the cooking alter the bone texture?

The only thing to do then is to check it out. Well, of course, one has to abide by the local rules, so no one was eaten. However, modern human bones were boiled for various times.

Modern recipes for a good white stock suggest simmering the beef or veal bones for 5 hours with a mix of vegetables and herbs. (Brown stock recipes require the bones to be roasted first.)

Comparison of the simmered human bones with the Neolithic ones showed that structural modifications of two of the bones matched up with the modifications shown to occur by boiling the modern human ones. The migration of material indicated that the boiling had been less than 6 hours. Looks like the neighbor got himself into a stew!

  1. P. Bosch, I. Alemán, C. Morena-Castella and M. Botella, J. Archaeol. Sci., 38, 2561, (2011).

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