Archaeology reveals the best way to drink: from a human skull

archaeology, skull, skull cup
Archaeologists in England have discovered three prehistoric skulls that were used as cups, the BBC reports.

The skulls were carefully worked into the shape of bowls. They were found in Gough’s Cave, Somerset, and are 14,700 years old. These make them the oldest skull cups discovered. Investigators found other human remains in the cave that suggest people split the bones to get at the marrow. As any dedicated carnivore knows, the marrow is one of the richest and most nutritious parts of any animal, humans included.

Skull cups were used by many cultures for many reasons. Some were involved in rituals to remind one of death, like this carved Chinese example photographed by user Shizhao and posted to Wikimedia Commons. Other cultures, like the Vikings and Scythians, drank from the skulls of their enemies to brag about their victory or get the power of the slain warrior for themselves. The archaeologists studying the Somerset skulls have published an interesting article about skull cups. The BBC also interviewed one of the researchers and their video of the skull cups is below.

So next time you’re in a museum, keep a sharp eye out for skull cups. The Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena has one, as does the Ethnological Museum in Berlin. London’s Natural History Museum sponsored the research and is making a reconstructed skull cup that will go on display in March.

Have you seen skull cups in other museums? Tell us about it in the comments section!

World’s oldest mechanical clock going automatic after 600 years


It’s been wound by hand for 600 years, but technology has finally caught up with the world’s oldest mechanical clock.

The duty of winding the clock three times a week, a task that takes an hour, has been performed by the same family for five generations. Before them a series of clock winders have been at the task since the clock was installed in Wells Cathedral, Somerset, England, in the 1380s.

But now Paul Fisher, the current clock winder, is retiring, and his sons are too busy to take over the task. Curators are installing an electric motor to wind it automatically.

It’s the end of a tradition that goes back to a century before Columbus’ voyage to America, and locals aren’t too happy about it. The clock has two dials, one inside and one outside. The inside face, shown above, has a 24-hour dial and shows the phases of the Moon. Interestingly for the time, it shows the Earth at the center of the universe, with the Sun and Moon revolving around it. The outside face has a more standard 12-hour dial, with mechanical knights who ring the bells and joust with one another.


Photo courtesy user Cormullion via Wikimedia Commons.

Help Wanted: one witch, pays £50,000

In these hard economic times it’s nice to know there are still good jobs out there. Wookey Hole, Somerset, England, is advertising for a witch.

Wookey Hole, famous for its beautiful limestone caves, is home to a family theme park. The company that manages the park wants to hire someone to play a witch and is willing to pay them £50,000 ($81,000) a year to cackle at visitors, teach courses in magic, and (here’s the catch) live in the caves. It’s not the greatest job in the world, but it beats flipping burgers and asking “Do you want eye of newt with that?”

According to legend there really was a witch in the Wookey Hole Caves. Back in the Middle Ages, an evil old witch who had been unlucky in love cursed a young couple so they would never marry. The young groom-to-be was so despondent over the loss of his love that he became a monk, and swore revenge. One day he entered the cave, blessed the underground river he found flowing through it, and splashed the water onto the witch, turning her into a stalagmite that can still be seen to this day.

It sounds like a fun way to make some money off an old legend, but one thing confuses me. Considering their name, why don’t they open a Star Wars theme park and hire a Wookiee?

Check out some of these other wacky laws, place names and signs from around the world!