In a groundbreaking discovery, scientists from the University of Bern, Switzerland, have found evidence of ancient humans in a southern Spanish cave engaging in unique and complex funerary practices. Published in PLOS ONE, their study reveals that the skeletal remains of at least 12 individuals, dating between 5,000 BC and 2,000 BC, were initially buried and later exhumed,modified, and repurposed as tools. The Cueva de los Marmoles, situated near the city of Granada in southern Spain, served as the archaeological treasure trove for this investigation. The team’s analysis unveiled intentional post-mortem alterations, to the bones, including fractures and scrapes, possibly made during the extraction of marrow and other tissues. Most notably, a tibia (shinbone) was discovered, deliberately broken, and repurposed as a tool, with one end modified for scraping,. Additionally, a cranium (skull) showed signs of scraping around its perimeter, suggesting either dietary or practical use. While such remains are commonly referred to as “skull cups,” their precise purpose remains enigmatic, highlighting the need for diverse explanations in the absence of written records.

This discovery reveals intricate prehistoric funerary customs in the region, in line with findings in nearby caves. Around 4,000 BC in southern Iberia, manipulating and modifying human remains became common, yet the reasons behind these practices remain a mystery. Researchers suggest they may have preserved social memory and strengthened community bonds. Interestingly, the alterations appear to have been done by individuals who knew the deceased, in life shortly after their passing. Cueva de los Marmoles emerges as a cultural hub across generations, shedding light on a captivating chapter in the region’s prehistoric history.