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At the time the first farmer-stockherders were moving into Europe, supplanting their hunter-gatherer predecessors.The Herxheim settlers came from the north (between 5,400 and 4,950BC) and belonged to the Linear Pottery culture.One popular theory to explain its presence in North America is that it was brought over by Christopher Columbus and others beginning in the late 15th century.But new genetic tests of hundreds of samples of one of North America's most common forms of anthrax suggest the disease actually spread from north to south.
In some cases the tops of skulls were arranged to form a nest, scattered with pottery fragments, broken adzes, jewellery made of shells, the paws and jawbones of dogs.They all show signs of having been cut, scraped or broken, indicating that their owners were cannibalised."Look at these grooves, running from the base of the nose to the back of the neck, or here on the temples," says Andrea Zeeb-Lanz, the regional head of archaeology, holding up a skull."The grooves show, beyond all possible doubt, that the flesh was torn off." It takes good eyesight to catch the fine parallel incisions made by the cutting edge of the flint stone.Anthrax in the Arctic Circle, for example, is more closely related to strains in Europe and Asia than to anthrax in the southern United States.While some parts of the new theory are speculative, it "makes a lot of sense" overall, said Gary Andersen, a microbial ecologist at California's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who was not involved in the study.
Endocannibalism, within a community, was a token of affection, the recognition of a bond that needed to be maintained.