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Ancient Site Holds Cannibalism Clues

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1:36pm, June 25, 2003

Excavations of three 850-year-old pit dwellings strewn with butchered human skeletons have yielded evidence of cannibalism in the prehistoric U.S. Southwest, according to a new report. The discoveries include the first example ever of what some scientists regard as a crucial sign of past cannibalism: a fossilized piece of human feces, also known as a coprolite, that contains the chemical residue of human flesh.

During a period of intense warfare throughout the region from A.D. 1150 to 1200, residents of the dwellings fell prey to attackers who killed and ate them, theorizes anthropologist Brian R. Billman of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. At least a few hours later, one of the attackers must have defecated in the victims' fireplace, he contends.

"We see that as an act of contempt," he says. "There was probably a brief outbreak of cannibalism that was used as a political or military strategy at prehistoric Anasazi sites."

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