#121 The Bones

by Meg Bortin

“The bones were found in a burial place in North Africa, inland from the Algerian coast,” the teacher said. “They were preserved amid the broken shells of thousands of snails. We dated them back to the Capsian era, about 10,000 years ago. Some of the skeletons were intact, but others had been tampered with shortly after death – the heads sawn off, the limbs sawn apart. We think the skulls were used to make masks for some sort of ritual.”

“Could there have been cannibalism?” a student asked.

“We don’t know,” said the teacher.

Flash backwards. A community is preparing to honor the memory of their chief. He was a brave man, a great leader. They paint their faces with ochre, adorn themselves with shell beads. A fire is burning in the night. Howls and chants erupt. Then the dancing begins.

Women sway in a circle, singing. Their men pound their feet, reach their lances toward the sky. The children watch in awe. In the center of the circle lies the body of the chief, beside him his oldest son, weeping. Elders carry the body away as the singing intensifies.

Later, the body’s limbs are slowly roasted on the fire. The community consumes their chief in a ceremony of oneness – with each other, with nature. The eldest son presides over the ritual wearing his father’s emptied skull as a mask. He’s the new chief, and he’s brave, too. He has to be. He’s next.

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