It is said that Alboin (d. 572), King of the Lombards, had the skull of his enemy, King Cunimind of the Gepids, turned into a drinking cup. It was the ultimate sign of triumph against a defeated foe. This tradition, however, whether for practical or emotional purposes, now appears to date back almost 15,000 years:
Ice Age folk who lived in what’s now southwestern England gruesomely went from heads off to bottoms up. Bones excavated at a cave there include the oldest known examples of drinking cups or containers made out of human skulls, says a team led by paleontologist Silvia Bello of the Natural History Museum in London.[...]
Prehistoric cave denizens cleaned the skulls before using stone tools to shape the upper parts of the brain cases into containers, the researchers say.
Bello suspects that Ice Age Britons hoisted hollowed-out crania in rituals of some kind. Other human bones found near the skull cups show signs of flesh and marrow removal, a result either of cannibalism or mortuary practices. The striking similarities between the cave finds and historical examples of drinking cups made out of skulls further support a ritual role for the Ice Age receptacles, Bello says.
Link | Photo: Natural History Museum