Scientific evidence shows that while Homo sapiens and Neanderthals did eat each other (as seen in at least 9 fossil sites dating back between 14,000 and 900,000 years ago, it is highly doubted that they hunted each other as (primarily) food sources. In fact, James Cole of the University of Brighten, England, notes that would it been “too much trouble” to hunt other humans.
“You’re dealing with an animal that is as smart as you are, as resourceful and who can fight back in the same way you can. So why bother with the hassle of hunting your own kind?” he posited.
In addition, Cole noted that we are not very nutritious on a calorie level compared with large game animals. He also went on to surmise that other humans would have provided “slim pickings” for hunters after examining purposely de-fleshed remains of Neanderthals at 5 prehistoric sites, as well as 2 involving our own-butchered species, as well as 2 involving other extinct members of the human family tree.
“Even if all the bodies noted above had been eaten at the same time (which they weren’t), the energy payoff would not have been more than hunters would have gleaned from a single woolly mammoth, bear or woolly rhino,” he concluded after determining that a single average-sized modern man would probably yield up approximately 144,000 calories, and then adapt that estimate to the range of ages of the fossilized bodies.
Still, while some anthropologists, such as Tim White, believe that ritual cannibalism was a fact of life among human tribes before the start of the Upper Paleolithic period, cannibalistic practices during the Lower and Middle Paleolithic may have been used “to eliminate predators’ and scavengers’ access to hominid bodies.” Of course, it could also have become a necessity in periods of great starvation, just as experienced by modern humans such as the “Starving Time” at Jamestown, Virginia (1609-1610), and the infamous Donner Party (1846-’47), not to mention the crash of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 (1972), when some survivors ate the bodies of dead passengers.
Cannibalism has also been well documented throughout history during times of war as well Even Flavius Josephus reported that cannibalism occurred during the siege of Jerusalem by Rome in 70 AD, while Appian stated that “the population of Numantia was reduced to cannibalism and suicide during the Roman Siege of Numantia in the 2nd century BC. Still, cultural cannibalism has been a part of human societies throughout the world, including the British Isles (as recently as 2000 years ago), as well as by tribes in the Americas, and especially in the South Pacific where the Maori of New Zealand killed and ate 66 passengers and crew aboard the Boyd in an 1809 (an incident known as the Boyd massacre), and in parts of the Solomon Islands, while flesh markets existed in some parts of Melanesia. In addition, Fiji was once known as the “Cannibal Isles.”
Meanwhile, funerary cannibalism was reported to still be actively practiced among the Fore people of Papua New Guinea, who traditionally cooked and ate deceased relatives in order to “help free the spirit of the dead. Women and children usually consumed the brain, until it was found that eating the organ caused the spread of kuru disease, an extremely rare, incurable neurodegenerative disorder. Although first diagnosed during the mid 20th century, the practice of eating dead relatives persisted until around 2012.
And although many people may believe that cannibalism among African tribes ended during colonialism, it has been reported to be part of recent wars in Central Africa, including those in Uganda, the Congo, and Liberia, etc.
Note: Other instances of (modern) cannibalism were recorded during World War II, particularly during the 872-day Siege of Leningrad, in the winter of 1941–1942, after all, birds, rats, and pets were eaten by survivors.