Cannibalism is one of those ultimate human taboos – and rumors of cannibalism are a lot more common than proven cases. Here are a few of the real ones.
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Richard Canavan - "Dark Horizons"
Donner Party route map [Kmusser / Wikipedia]
Packer Massacre Site Photo
Piskayovo Graveyard [RIA Novosti Archive / Wikipedia]
War Children [RIA Novosti Archive / Wikipedia]
A street after a German artillery raid during the Leningrad blockade [RIA Novosti Archive / Wikipedia]
Migrants Turn to Cannibalism to Survive (Associated Press)
Cannibalism is one of those ultimate human taboos – and rumors of cannibalism are a lot more common than, you know, proven cases of ordinary people eating other people. Here are a few of the real ones:
Let’s get this out of the way: the Donner Party story is true. In November of 1846 this ill-fated expedition found themselves trapped in the California/Nevada mountains. First they ate the pack animals. Then the dogs. In a desperate attempt to survive, they made soup from boiled animal bone and hide. By Christmas, they were eating the bodies of the dead. Members of the group accused each other of murder, saying that people were being killed to guarantee that flesh would be, ahem. Close at hand.
Alferd Packer was another pioneer who sought his fortune out west, only to find terror in its place. In February 1847 Packer and five prospectors left a camp in Colorado to find gold in the Breckenridge mountains. Later that April, Packer, stumbled into another camp claiming a storm had hit, and everyone else had disappeared looking for food. Eventually he admitted that one person died and the group ate the body. Three more died of exposure, he said, and he killed one in self-defense. In August, authorities found the campsite… and the group hadn’t died of exposure. Instead, Packard had murdered – and eaten – the other five prospectors.
Survival cannibalism isn’t always a case of a few unfortunate people isolated without food. During the nearly three-year Siege of Leningrad, a million people died. The population slowly starved with no way to replenish the food supply. Gangs of starving citizens roamed the streets, and the city had to dedicate an entire unit to fighting cannibalism. 260 people were arrested for cannibalism, and parents kept their children inside at night for fear of kidnapping.
Cannibalism isn’t something restricted to centuries past, either. In 2008 thirty-three Dominicans set out in a fishing boat for a better life in Puerto Rico. Less than two days in, the engines malfunctioned. The boat drifted on open water for 6 more days before the first person died. The captain disappeared. People began dying daily. After two weeks at sea, 27 of 33 passengers died of starvation and dehydration. Driven to the brink of death, the five survivors decided to eat one of the last men to die. Ironically, they were found by the United States Coast Guard the next day.
These are just a few examples of survival cannibalism. If you’d like to read more about the grisly, disturbing history of exploration, check out our article “10 True Stories of Survival Cannibalism”, and subscribe so you don’t miss an episode of What The Stuff?!