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Would you like spice with that, Senor?

Ian Hamlton

Ian Hamlton

AlkaWay Founder

Throughout history, humans have eaten each other. Now we know more of how ancient cannibals preferred to dine: They spent hours (well, I assume hours – they didn’t have watches!)  preparing elaborate feasts with recipes with exotic ingredients.

 2,000 years ago and more, people living near Mexico City grilled or boiled other humans, seasoning the cooked meat with chilis and brilliantly colored spices that stained the victims’ bones.

The food revelation is in a new study, which was just published in the journal Archaeometry. Researchers studied remains of 18 people (men, women, and children) at Tlatelcomila, an archaeological site. The tiny bone fragments dated to around 700 to 500 B.C., and left cut marks and fractures that hinted at cannibalism. But they were also tinted red and yellow. The team thought this was weird. So, they tried to figure out how the man-eaters prepared their food. After a pile of forensic investigation, they found the answer.

First, shortly after the time of death, the meat juices congregated around some bones and slightly diffused into them. This gave the bones a red color, suggesting their meat was grilled.

But why were some yellow? The team deduced that the meat on those bones boiled in low heat with colorful ingredients: spices like saffron-ish annatto as well as chili peppers. Those spices contain pigments that can not only dye clothing, but bone, too.

The study gives us a peek into an ancient cannibal’s cookbook, suggesting the flesh-nibblers in the region used the same recipes to prepare humans as they did other food in Mesoamerica.

Hmm. Paleo Senor?


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