Scientists from the University of Bern, Switzerland, have made a groundbreaking discovery about ancient humans in southern Spain. Published in PLOS ONE, their study explores the mysterious practices of early inhabitants of the Cueva de los Marmoles near Granada. They found skeletal remains dating from 5,000 BC to 2,000 BC that were initially buried but later repurposed as tools, shedding light on a remarkable aspect of our ancient past. The study reveals deliberate post-mortem changes in these ancient bones, such as fractures and scrapes, possibly from tissue extraction. Notably, a tibia was intentionally broken and repurposed as a scraping tool, while a cranium displayed scraping marks, leaving its purpose, whether dietary or practical, uncertain. Termed “skull cups,” their precise function remains a compelling enigma due to the absence of written records.

This discovery not only reveals intricate prehistoric funeral customs in the region but also parallels similar findings in nearby caves dating back to around 4,000 BC in southern Iberia. While the reasons behind these practices remain enigmatic, researchers believe they may have aimed to preserve social memories and strengthen community ties. Intriguingly, the modifications seem to have been carried out by people who knew the deceased in life shortly after their demise. Cueva de los Marmoles emerges as a cultural hub across generations, shedding light on a captivating chapter in the region’s prehistoric history.