The Most Influential Text on Cannibalism: An Analysis of William Arens’s The Man-Eating Myth

The Most Influential Text on Cannibalism: An Analysis of William Arens’s The Man-Eating Myth

(Written for History News Network, October 2019)

In the 1970s, a student at Stony Brook University asked his anthropology professor, William Arens, why he “lectured on kinship, politics and economics instead of more interesting things like witchcraft, fieldwork experiences and cannibalism.”[1] Arens listened to the student, reevaluated what he taught, and “consequently…turned to the study of man-eaters.”[2]

As Arens researched popular accounts of cannibalism, he discovered a disturbing trend: there was not a single shred of compelling evidence for the practice. Could cannibalism be a colonial concoction? Arens presented the idea to colleagues who promptly told him “to concern [himself] with more serious scholarship.”[3] This further stimulated Arens’s curiosity.

Unable to locate reliable textual sources, Arens put a notice in the Newsletter of the American Anthropological Association asking if anyone had eye-witness knowledge of ritualistic cannibalism.[4] Arens received four responses. The first was a dead end. The second, from a philosopher wanting to hear the other responses. The third, from a psychiatrist in New Guinea who described a second-hand account of a father eating his son. The fourth came from a German graduate student who similarly could not find any reliable account of cannibalism.[5] With Arens’s suspicions of ritualistic cannibalism seemingly confirmed, his project picked up steam and soon Oxford University Press accepted his manuscript. The resulting 1979 monograph, The Man-Eating Myth, is the most influential text ever written on cannibalism.

The reason why The Man-Eating Myth rejuvenated a whole field of study; the reason why it inspired a deluge of articles, theses, dissertations, and books; the reason why it changed the approach scholars take when dealing with sources that contain anthropophagy is because of the book’s shocking thesis. Arens argued that ritualistic cannibalism had never been observed or documented. All recorded instances of cannibalism that he studied (save survival cannibalism à la the Donner Party, or “antisocial behavior” in the vein of Jeffrey Dahmer) were fabricated by Whites in their quest to barbarize and brutalize those they intended to colonize.[6] As Arens summarizes, “excluding survival conditions, I have been unable to uncover adequate documentation of cannibalism as a custom in any form for any society. Rumors, suspicions, fears and accusations abound, but no satisfactory first-hand accounts.”[7]

This article addresses six problematic aspects of Arens’s The Man-Eating Myth. Although most of my work is a strong critique, I attempt to avoid the complete slash-and-burn style that is often seen in discussions of this controversial book. In addition to pointing out the work’s errors, my analysis highlights the good that came from The Man-Eating Myth, such as how Arens made authors far more accountable and careful when discussing the sensitive topic of anthropophagy. In essence, this article argues that although Arens’s denial of ritualistic cannibalism is irresponsible, his book is quintessential to modern studies on cannibalism.


Arens released his monograph at an opportune time. In the 1970s, academia began rejecting the traditional and colonially biased versions of history. Pioneering scholarship such as Edward Said’s Orientalism and Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish preceded Arens’s work and dovetailed with his findings of colonizers controlling the gazes of outsiders for their own gain. Further making the environment ripe for The Man-Eating Myth was anthropologist Michael Harner’s controversial 1977 article that suggested that the Aztecs maintained their empire through the use of cannibalism. Harner argued that because of rapid population growth and the absence of large sustainable herbivores (buffalo or deer), Aztecs had to rely on cannibalism to satisfy their protein requirements.[8] Arens’s refutation of ritualistic cannibalism provided a provocative counter to Harner’s arguments. Oxford University Press expected a hit.

The initial reception of the Man-Eating Myth was positive.[9] William McGrew, a psychologist from the University of Stirling, proclaimed that “if [Arens’s] idea sounds preposterous, the reader might pause to reflect on how recently it was in Europe and America that witchcraft was taken very seriously indeed.”[10] John Burton, in Anthropos, reverberated the praise: “Despite the voluminous literature on the subject of man-eating in the western world and the plethora of folktales which turn on the same theme, Arens’s extensive and meticulous assayance of this material reveals that time after time, the act of human cannibalism is mythical.”[11] As did Khalid Hasan in Third World Quarterly: “In a brilliant and well-documented work Arens scrutinizes the available anthropological and popular literature on cannibalism and establishes that no concrete evidence exists about the practice.”[12]

After a wave of positive reviews, came a torrent of negative reviews—each more vicious than the last. “The difficulty with the book,” contended James Springer in Anthropological Quarterly, “is that Arens is almost certainly wrong.”[13] “There is so little regard for accuracy,” quipped Shirley Lindenbaum, “that one wonders whether the book was in fact ever intended for a scholarly audience.”[14] “Arens—who is more of a sensation-hungry journalist than an exact historian—has received all too much attention,” commented Frank Lestringant, “[his] ‘crazy denial’ [has] undoubted similarity to the negationist historians of the Holocaust.”[15] To explain the backlash and to have all the main critiques assembled in a single location for future researchers, I concisely describe the six major issues with The Man-Eating Myth.[16]

Issue #1: A Purposefully Unattainable Criteria for Cannibalism

The provocative point of Arens’s argument is that he could not find any valid sources of cannibalism. Therefore, if a single historical source meets his strict criteria, his essentialist statement crumbles. With this in mind, Arens set his criteria for a legitimate viewing of cannibalism at a nonsensical level: an eyewitness account from an academically trained anthropologist.[17] This effectively nullifies every viewing of cannibalism prior to the twentieth century.[18] As one scholar incredulously responds, “It is difficult to assume, as [Arens] does, that all explorers, conquistadors, missionaries, traders, and colonizers—as well as many historians and journalists—have inaccurately, and perhaps dishonestly, represented instances of cannibalism they claimed to have witnessed, and for which physical evidence has been found.”[19]

When Arens searched for sightings of cannibalism by a modern-day anthropologist, he found a single publication written by Gertrude Dole who witnessed the Amahuaca Indians of the Peruvian-Brazilian border consume the bone ash of a deceased infant.[20] I relate her record of the event in near-entirety:

An infant died in the night. When this fact was discovered at dawn, the little corpse was flexed and wrapped in its mother’s skirt and a blanket. The bundle was firmly bound with bast. The mother of the infant, Yamba Wachi, took the bundle and wailed over it as she sat on the floor of her house. Tears flowed and her eyes swelled. Occasionally she wiped mucus from her nose….One week after the date of burial, the corpse was cremated….Hawachiwa Yamba lighted the funeral pyre. He and one of his helpers opened the grave with machetes and removed the two burial pots, taking care not to open them. Nevertheless, the odor of decaying flesh escaped as Yamba Wachi took the vessels fondly in her arms and wailed over them, caressing the lower one. At this point, Yamba Wachi’s husband, Maxopo, approached her beside the grave, put one hand on the vessels, and began to wail with her. Although he had previously shown no grief, he now generated tears, and mucus dripped from his nose….He quickly dumped the decaying remains into a third pot in which he had broken a small hole in the base, covered this pot with another and placed them on the flaming pyre. When they had finished doing this, Maxopo suddenly dashed toward the fire with hands outstretched as if to retrieve the corpse. His gesture was apparently a part of the ritual and was anticipated by the helpers, who had joined in restraining him….the pot was removed from the fire and soon Yamba Wachi, still wailing and weeping began to slowly and laboriously pick out of the cremation pot the tiny bits of whitened bones that remained with the hot coals and ash….Yamba Wachi continued to wail intermittently a few more days, holding the bowl of bones on her lap. During this time her adult son cut a new trough. When finished, she ground corn and made gruel. Into this, she mixed the bone powder and drank the mixture.[21]

Arens’s issue with Dole’s account is the lack of “indication…how, where or why the bones were turned into this powdery substance.”[22] In other words, even though Dole gives an exact, professional, and protracted play-by-play of the anthropophagic ritual (precisely what Arens demands) because she does not describe how the mother pulverized her baby’s bones, Arens disqualifies the testimony.[23]  To take a quote from Arens’s book and apply it to himself, “the author is so convinced of the validity of [his] assumption that [his] distortions [are] not consciously perceived.”[24]

Issue #2: Excessive Denigration

Arens’s thesis rests upon the backs of easily demonized historical actors such as Christopher Columbus and Hernán Cortés. These figures perfectly fit the model Arens has created: their accounts are outrageous, and they had everything to gain from propagating the assertion that Indians practiced cannibalism. Arens then treats feasible sources as if they had the same dark intentions and motivations as men like Cortés and Columbus. This allows Arens to use the reasoning that if a source came from a colonizer, their descriptions must be false. For an example of the ad hominem employed, consider Arens’s passage on Hans Staden, a German shipwrecked on the coast of Brazil:

[Staden] curiously informs the reader that “the savages had not the art of counting beyond five.” Consequently, they often have to resort to their fingers and toes. In those instances when higher mathematics are involved extra hands and feet are called in to assist in the enumeration. What the author is attempting to convey in this simple way with this addendum is that the Tupinamba lack culture in the sense of basic intellectual abilities. The inability to count is to him supportive documentation for the idea that these savages would resort to cannibalism.[25]

As anthropologist Donald Forsyth explains in an article countering Arens’s assertions, “Staden’s statement concerning Tupinamba enumeration is correct….ancient Tupi had no terms for numbers beyond four. Larger numbers were expressed in circumlocutions, often involving fingers and toes.”[26] Staden expresses what he saw, but Arens puts thoughts in Staden’s head and twists the testimony to fit his needs.

Issue #3: Cannibalism is Not Inherently Evil

Arens believes that cannibalism goes against “the strongest and most elementary social constraints.” As a result, The Man-Eating Myth is written with the mindset that cannibalism is naturally aberrant or evil behavior.[27] This ignores that cannibalism can functions as a positive act in some cultures.

Harkening back to the Amahuaca Indians, the departed baby’s bone ash was consumed to “appease the spirit of the deceased.”[28] Neglecting to do so could result in the child being stuck in this world “caus[ing] trouble, [and] hanging around wanting to kill someone.” The Wari’ of coastal Peru similarly described that cannibalism “was considered to be the most respectful way to treat a human body [after death].”[29] For the Amahuacas and the Wari’, endocannibalism is an affectionate act; to not practice it is cruel and immoral.[30] Arens never recognizes this viewpoint; for this professor, all forms of cannibalism are evil. As Christopher Robert Hallpike expounds in his 2017 article on The Man-Eating Myth, “Arens’s unwillingness to believe in the very possibility of cannibalism as an institution appears, in fact, to be his own ethnocentric Western prejudice.”[31]

Issue #4: Arens Refused to Look Deeply at European Culture

The fifth problem is closely related—Arens continually looked outward for cultures that practiced cannibalism rather than inward. Had he taken a closer look at Europeans, he would have found a wonderfully well-documented customary cannibalism.[32]

During the Renaissance, at the same time explorers wrote of cannibalistic orgies in the New World, consumers in the Old World—entranced in a culture of ailments, elixirs, and tinctures—ritually consumed human flesh as medicine. One ritual was savage; the other, enlightened.[33] As author Bess Lovejoy writes in an introduction to the European flesh market,

Many of the recipes relied on sympathetic magic: powdered blood helps bleeding, human fat helps bruising, skulls help with migraines or dizziness. Physicians and patients believed that ingredients obtained from corpses were most potent if they had died violently. For instance, the great sixteenth-century physician Paracelsus wrote that after a man was hanged, his “vital spirits” would “burst forth to the circumference of the bone.” It was thought that when death came suddenly, a person’s spirit could stay trapped within its mortal coil for at least enough time that the living might benefit from its power.[34]

This sort of cannibalism has a different face to the Western ideal of the cannibal such as zombies or barbaric indians. This cannibalism is “scientific” and consequently, easier to overlook as Arens did. The irony, of course, is thick. As Europeans scorned cannibalism, they had a culture that simultaneously revered it.[35]

Issue #5: Archaeological Evidence of Ritualistic Cannibalism Exists

In spite of Arens’s assertion that “the rarity of the [archaeological] finds, including those of a dubious nature, does not permit the conclusion that the material evidence ever points to cannibalism as a cultural pattern in either gustatory or ritual form,” archaeological evidence for cannibalism is now robust.[36] Before The Man-Eating Myth, there existed a rickety list of criteria for osteological proof of cannibalism. Since the publication of Arens’s thesis, archaeologists have revamped that list and set a stricter standard, as this abbreviated index demonstrates:

  • Bones that indicate cannibalism are usually in a better state of preservation because the fat and muscle, which speeds up decomposition, have been removed.
  • Bones that indicate cannibalism have fewer signs of animal gnawing or chewing because much of the flesh had already been stripped away.
  • Bones that indicate cannibalism contain cut marks that are analogous to the cut marks on processed animal bones.
  • Bones that indicate cannibalism are “pot polished” from rubbing against the sides of clay boiling pots.
  • Bones that indicate cannibalism typically follow a pattern of being cut, and then broken, and then burned (harvested, prepared, and cooked).
  • Bones that indicate cannibalism are widely scattered or are found in refuse piles.
  • Bones that indicate cannibalism bear little resemblance to the bones of proper burials.[37]

With the preceding osteological indicators, archaeologists discovered cannibalism in the American Southwest, in Neolithic France, and in prehistoric Ethiopia.[38] And in 1999, a new technique was developed to further solidify evidence of cannibalism even further in our past: the presence of digested myoglobin, a human muscle protein, in fossilized feces.[39]

Although the archaeological evidence of cannibalism is robust, the archaeological evidence of ritualistic cannibalism was (and to a degree, still is) less than clear-cut. That is key because Arens does not deny “rare [and] isolated instances of prehistoric beings who engaged in survival cannibalism.” Instead, he denies “cannibalism as a cultural pattern.”[40]

In 1993, archaeologists made a major theoretical advancement by showing strong archaeological evidence of customary cannibalism in the American Southwest.[41] A husband and wife team, Christy and Jacqueline Turner, analyzed hundreds of sites over the span of decades in and found that archaeological lots with strong evidence of cannibalism were not randomly distributed.[42] Instead, the sites were exclusively located within the Anasazi culture area—none in the surrounding regions despite those regions having “more severe winters [which] should have produced some cannibalized assemblages if starvation had been the primary cause.”[43] Moreover, survival-cannibalism could not explain why the bodies uncovered by Turner and Turner were so battered and beaten—the markings indicating torture-like trauma.[44] With starvation-cannibalism ruled out, customary cannibalism became heavily inferred. Turner and Turner solidify this inference by turning to the historical record and showing that this outcropping of cannibalism was likely spurred by the spread of Aztec culture from Central Mexico in the form of immigrants following a “warrior-cultist tradition.”[45]

Determining cultural cannibalism through archaeological means is a greatly burdensome and difficult task and had not been conclusively done prior to The Man-Eating Myth. Arens is overstating his case in arguing that there exists no evidence of customary cannibalism derived through archaeological means. Yet, in 1979, his assertion was technically correct.

Issue #6: Arens’s Limited Source Base

The Man-Eating Myth attacks instances of cannibalism among Africans, early man, Polynesians, the Indians of the American Southwest, the Iroquois, the Caribs, the Aztecs, the Tupinambás, and the peoples of the New Guinea Highlands. With such a broad range of peoples, Arens is unable to give a nuanced analysis of each group’s supposed cannibalism.[46] For each community, Arens devotes a paltry twelve pages.[47]

To clarify, the number of pages devoted to a topic is not fully indicative of that work’s quality. And the problem of being overly broad is inevitable when considering the scope of Arens’s book—a problem that Arens himself acknowledges.[48] Examining every case of cannibalism is asking the impossible. Arens instead focuses on “the most popular and best-documented case studies of cannibalism.” Therein lies the issue. Arens only uses the “popular” cases of cannibalism as his sources, or at least principally. Numerous primary sources, secondary sources, and any other cultural histories are bypassed. Cannibalism, by The Man-Eating Myth’s correct assertion, is an incredibly dangerous label because it can be used to depict a society as sub-human. When discussing the subject, a comprehensive review of the surrounding literature must be done; a comprehensive review which Arens neglected.


The New Yorker wrote that the The Man-Eating Myth “is a model of disciplined and fair argument.”[49] The six aforementioned problems show that The Man-Eating Myth is instead a model of imprecision and sharp sophistry. As one scholar aptly puts, “If anthropologists don’t want to believe in evidence for regularly-practiced, culturally-sanctioned cannibalism it is because they are purposefully avoiding the evidence.”[50]

The Second Part That Is Usually Forgotten

Writers usually end there—they bash the book and call it a day. This is a mistake. Academics are so frenzied by the scent of scholarly blood, that they have ignored insightful aspects of Arens’s work.

To begin, colonizers do in fact use cannibalism as a tool to claim what is not theirs.[51] In my own studies on the Karankawa Indians of the Texas Gulf Coast, Anglo-American settlers regularly used rumors of these Native peoples cannibalism to justify wanton murder.  In one vivid instance, Anglo-Americans supposedly stumbled upon some Karankawas cannibalizing a colonist’s young child. “The Indians were so completely absorbed in their diabolical and hellish orgie [sic], as to be oblivious to their surroundings, and were taken by surprise.” The colonizers massacred all of the Karankawas except “a squaw and her two small children,” but after the Whites “consulted a little while…they decided it was best to exterminate such a race” and proceeded to murder the three remaining survivors.[52] Dismissing Arens’s book dismisses this reality. Cannibalism is a powerful mechanism used to cast undesirables as worthy of  extermination.

Continuing, Arens’s assertion that “anthropology has not maintained the usual standards of documentation and intellectual rigor expected when other topics are being considered” hits the nail on the head.[53] Before The Man-Eating Myth, research tended to lean toward the implication that all native Peoples practiced cannibalism.[54] Now scholars are far more careful with their approach to cannibalism.[55]

In a scathing review, anthropologist James Springer states that The Man-Eating Myth “does not advance our knowledge of cannibalism.”[56] The opposite is true. Prior to the book’s publication, the field of cannibalism had been grossly understudied, which is one of the reasons why Arens found so little scholarly-backed evidence when examining cases of cannibalism. After publishing The Man-Eating Myth, the book’s controversy grew to such a severe level that scholars representing an assortment of fields jump-started research on anthropophagy to disprove the book’s thesis. In essence, Arens’s book cannibalized itself. The reaction it prompted caused its own undoing. This literary cannibalism has done the most to inform us about an erroneously maligned cultural practice.[57]


[1] W. Arens, The Man-Eating Myth (Oxford: University of Oxford Press, 1979), v.

[2] Ibid, v.

[3] Ibid, vi.

[4] Ibid, 172-174.

[5] Ibid, 174.

[6] Ibid, 9, 13, 135.

[7] Ibid, 9, 21. Most academics, journalists, and other interested readers take this thesis to mean that Arens completely denies ritualistic cannibalism but he is very careful in making such a sweeping statement: “[I] have consciously avoided suggesting that customary cannibalism in some form does not or has never existed.” Ibid, 180. Nonetheless, after finishing The Man-Eating Myth, it becomes clear that Arens heavily implies such a thesis: “Although the theoretical possibility of customary cannibalism cannot be dismissed, the available evidence does not permit the facile assumption that the act was or has ever been a prevalent cultural feature.” Ibid, 180-182.

[8] Michael Harner, “The Ecological Basis for Aztec Sacrifice,” American Ethnologist 4, no. 1 (1977): 131. Harner’s graduate advisor, Marvin Harris, published Cannibals and Kings the next year and echoed Harner’s views of Aztec cannibalism. See Marvin Harris, Cannibals and Kings (New York: Random House, 1977), 110. Scholars refer to the concept of a “cannibal empire” or a “cannibal kingdom” as “Harris and Harner cannibalism.”

Harner also includes extreme development, environmental failure, raging population rates, and an emphasis on finicky maize production as factors leading to customary cannibalism, see Harner, “the Ecological Basis for Aztec Sacrifice,” 132-134.

There are numerous issues with Harner’s article. He inflates the number of Aztec sacrifices per year, he disregards other sources of protein, but in my opinion the most significant fault is the dangerous precedent he set—that if a society practices cannibalism, it is because they do not have enough to eat. As numerous anthropologists explain, and as I show in my work on the Karankawa Indians, ritualistic anthropophagy is always more complex than simple hungering for human-flesh. For more critiques against Harner and Harris, see Arens, The Man-Eating Myth, 70-75; Bernard Ortiz de Montellano, “Counting Skulls: Comment on the Aztec Cannibalism Theory of Harner-Harris,” American Anthropologist 85, no. 2 (1983): 403-406; George Pierre Castile, “Purple People Eaters?: A Comment on Aztec Elite Class Cannibalism à la Harris-Harner,” American Anthropologist 852, no. 2 (1980): 389-391; Marshall Sahlins, “Cannibalism: An Exchange,” The New York Reveiw of Books, March 22, 1979,

[9] For an interesting article on how non-anthropologists and journalists are those who adopted and praised Arens’ book see J. S. Kidd, “Scholarly Excess and Journalistic Restraint in the Popular Treatment of Cannibalism,” Social Studies of Science, 18, no. 4 (1988): 749-754.

[10] William McGrew, review of The Man-Eating Myth, by W. Arens, Carnivore vol. 3, no. 1 (1979): 76-77, In this review, McGrew does fault Arens’ criteria for a valid first-hand account of cannibalism. And McGrew has a different position on Arens’s The Man-Eating Myth when reviewing the collection, The Anthropology of Cannibalism, twenty-one years later, see McGrew, review of The Anthropology of Cannibalism, ed. Lawrence R. Goldman, Politics and the Life Sciences 19, no. 1 (2000): 116-117.

[11] John Burton, review of The Man-Eating Myth, by W. Arens, Anthropos 75, no. 3 (1980), 644-645,

[12] Khalid Hasan, review of The Man-Eating Myth, by W. Arens, Third World Quarterly 2, no. 4 (1980): 812-814; For more, see R. E. Downs, review of The Man-Eating Myth, by W. Arens, American Ethnologist 7, no. 4 (1980):785-786; P.G. Bahn, “Ancestral Cannibalism gives us new food for thought,” New Scientist Magazine, April 1992,; R. Needham, “Chewing on Cannibals,” Times Literary Supplement, Jan 25th, 1980, 75-76; Gina Kolata, “Anthropologists Suggest Cannibalism is a Myth,” Science 232 (1986): 1497-1500.

[13] James Springer, review of The Man-Eating Myth, by W. Arens, Anthropological Quarterly 53, no. 2 (1980): 148.

[14] Shirley Lindenbaum, review of The Man-Eating Myth, by W. Arens, Ethnohistory 29, no. 1 (1982): 59.

[15] Frank Lestringant, Cannibals: The Discovery and Representation of the Cannibal from Columbus to Jules Verne, trans. Rosemary Morris (Oakland: University of California Press, 1997), 6, 191. For more critiques of Arens’ The Man-Eating Myth, see P.G. Riviere, Review of The Man-Eating Myth, by W. Arens, Man 15, no. 1 (1980): 203-205; Thomas Krabacher, review of The Man-Eating Myth, by W. Arens, Human Ecology 8, no. 4 (1980): 407-409; Sahlins, “Cannibalism: An Exchange,”; Ivan Brady, American Anthropologist 84, no. 3 (1982): 595-611; Neil L. Whitehead, Lords of the Tiger Spirit: A History of the Caribs in Colonial Venezuela and Guyana, 1498-1820 (Foris Publishers, 1988), 180.

[16] Supporters of Arens’s work saw the backlash as inevitable. As anthropologist Thomas Abler summarizes, “Arens attacks the entire profession of anthropology for being so gullible that we have accepted tales of cannibalism with no evidence to support such tales.” See Thomas Abler, review of The Man-Eating Myth, by W. Arens, Ethnohistory 27, no. 4, Special Iroquois Issue (1980): 310, Of course, said Arens defenders, anthropologists will belittle scholarship that challenges their deeply held disciplinary structures; of course, anthropologists are going to be outraged by a work that critiques them. Arens’s defenders are marginally correct. It does seem like the attack on the profession of anthropology is a stimulant for the rage that this book provoked. But the main reason why The Man-Eating Myth has received an incredible amount of backlash is because the book truly does contain a litany of ideological and historical errors. Its thesis enticed the first set of reviewers. The second set revealed it to be built atop a house of cards. For the outcropping of academics who hold fast to Arens’ assertions, see Gananath Obeysekere, Cannibal Talk: The Man-Eating Myth and Human Sacrifice in the South Sea (Berkley: University of California Press, 2005); Anthony Pagden, The Fall of Natural Man: The American Indian and the Origins of Comparative Ethnology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 80-87, 226; Merrilee Salmon, “Standards of Evidence in Anthropological Reasoning,” The Southern Journal of Philosophy, 35 (1995): 129-145. For a graceful critique of Salmon’s article, see Robert Feleppa, “Aspects of the Cannibalism Controversy: Comments on Merrilee Salmon,” The Southern Journal of Philosophy 34 (1995): 147-154.

[17] Arens, The Man-Eating Myth, 10, 181-183. Also see the last paragraph of McGrew, review of The Man-Eating Myth,

[18] Lewis Petrinovich, The Cannibal Within (New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 2000), 150. “‘Anthropologists,’ in the sense of university-trained professionals, have not existed until the twentieth century A.D., which leaves two million years of cultural history and 5000 years of written records deprived of these professionals.”

[19] Ibid, 150. In this quote is also included “anthropologists,” but it has been removed because of redundancy. Petrinovich’s point remains the same.

[20] Arens, The Man-Eating Myth, 36.

[21] Gertrude Dole, “Endocannibalism among the Amahuaca Indians,” Transactions 24, no. 5 (1962): 568-569.

[22] Arens, The Man-Eating Myth, 37-38. I do perceive bias in Dole’s account, such as believing that “the ritual type [of cannibalism] is usually restricted to uncivilized peoples.” Ibid, 567. These biases do not seem to have impacted her ability to record an instance of endocannibalism.

[23] In his words, “There is no doubt we are dealing with a complicated process reminiscent of the shell game….the bones could easily get lost even from the eye of the trained observer, who sees them in one instant but in the next does not.” Ibid, 38.

[24] The actual quote is, “A careful reading of the material suggests that, rather than trying to delude the reader, the author is so convinced of the validity of the assumption that the distortion is not consciously perceived.” Ibid, 36.


[25] Ibid, 23-24.

[26] See Donald Forsyth, “Three Cheers for Hans Staden: The Case for Brazilian Cannibalism,” Ethnohistory 32, no. 1 (1985): 17-36.  For other instances of ad hominem, see Arens treatment of James Tuck and “Bloody Hill,” Arens, The Man-Eating M yth, 127-129; Thomas Abler, “Iroquois Cannibalism: Fact not Fiction,” Ethnohistory 27, no. 4 (1980): 309-316.

[27] Arens, The Man-Eating Myth, 147.

[28] Dole, “Endocannibalism among the Amahuaca Indians,” 569.

[29] Beth Conklin, “Thus Are Our Bodies, Thus Was Our Custom: Mortuary Cannibalism in an Amazonian Society,” American Ethnologist 22, no. 1 (1995): 76, 79. Conklin interviewed eighty-five percent of the Wari’ population for this information.

[30] Salmon has the same issue, in that she “discounts…cannibalism on the grounds that it is not a normal cultural practice but borders on psychotic behavior.” Lewis Petrinovich, The Cannibal Within (New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 2000), 148.

[31] C.R. Hallpike, “The Man-Eating Myth Reconsidered,” New English Review (2018): Arens does acknowledge some of what Hallpike argues: “My insistence on reliable evidence to support the assumption that of cannibalism has been interpreted by colleagues as repugnance or a refusal to admit the possibility of the practice. This is taken as an indication of an unscientific or ethnocentric turn of mind.” Arens, The Man-Eating Myth, 175.

[32] Arens does include two pages on the Eucharist at the end of his book. Arens, The Man-Eating Myth, 160.

Florence Bernault’s syllabus on European perceptions of cannibalism has a host of fantastic Western-oriented sources, see Florence Bernault, “Cannibals and Cannibalism,” (syllabus, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Spring 2016),

[33] See especially Louise Nobel, Medicinal Cannibalism in Early Modern English Literature and Culture (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).

[34] Bess Lovejoy, “A Brief History of Medical Cannibalism,” Lapham’s Quarterly, November 7, 2016,

[35] There are also occurrences of Anglo-Americans in nineteenth-century Texas practicing or considering to practice exo-cannibalism. I would not consider these instances culturally ritualistic per say. After the Texas Rangers slew a camp of Indians in mid-nineteenth-century, Dave Lawrence “stepp[ed] up and cut off the thigh of one of the slain Indians. I [Rufus Perry] asked him what he intended to do with it. ‘Why,’ he answered, ‘I am going to take it along to eat. If you don’t get some game before noon tomorrow we’ll need it! “Later, the Rangers acquired food from another colonizer, “so old Dave Lawrence did not have to eat his Indian meat.” John Holland Jenkins, Recollections of Early Texas: Memoirs of John Holland Jenkins (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1958), 193-194.

[36] Arens, The Man-Eating Myth, 134. Arens gives a response to some of these archaeological findings in a 22-minute video produced by The Learning Channel. He says, “I think it is impossible to prove that cannibalism took place….cannibalism is this notion that seduces archaeology, if they are going to get any sort of publicity for their research, if they are going to get anyone to listen to their research, it seems as if they are compelled to say that their site, their find, is indication of cannibalism. I believe that they are seduced.” see DocSpot, “Archaeology: Cannibals (Documentary),” YouTube video, 25:00, July 19, 2018,

[37] Christy Turner and Jacqueline Turner, Man Corn: Cannibalism and Violence in the Prehistoric American Southwest (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1999), 1-9; Tim White, Prehistoric Cannibalism at Mancos: 5MTUMR-2346 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), 9-10.

[38] White, Prehistoric Cannibalism at Mancos; Turner and Turner, Man Corn; Paola Villa, Calude Bouville, Jean Courtin, et. al., Cannibalism in Neolithic. Science 233 (4762):431-437; Defleur, et. all, Neanderthal cannibalism at Moula-Guercy, Ardeche, France, Science, 286, 128-131;For the Southwest, see Michael Dice (1993) – A disarticulated Human Bone Assemblage from Leroux Wash, Arizona. Master’s thesis, Department of Anthropology Arizona State University, Tempe; for archaeological evidence of cannibalism in Spain, see Fernandez-Jalvo et. al, Human cannibalism in the early Pleistocene of Europe (Grann Dolina, Sierra de Atapuerca, Burgos, Spain) Journal of Human Evolution, 37 (3-4): 59-622; Rougier, H. et al. “Neandertal cannibalism and Neandertal bones used as tools in Northern Europe,” Science (2016).

[39] University Of North Carolina At Chapel Hill. “Study Provides Direct Evidence Of Cannibalism In The Southwest.” ScienceDaily. (accessed March 10, 2019); John Noble Wilford, “New Data Suggests Some Cannibalism By Ancient Indians,” The New York Times, Sept. 7, 2000,

[40] Arens, The Man-Eating Myth, 134-135.

[41] Sentence structure taken from Turner and Turner, Man Corn, 8. “A major theoretical advance took place in 1993, when it became clear that sites with hypothesized cannibalism were not randomly distributed.”

[42] For a wonderful article on the chronology and origin of the Turners’ work, see Douglas Preston, “Cannibals of the Canyon,” The New Yorker, November 30, 1998,

[43] Turner and Turner, Man Corn, 8.

[44] Preston, “Cannibals of the Canyon,” 86. For more reasoning behind why Turner and Turner rule out starvation cannibalism, see Turner and Turner, Man Corn, 460-462.

[45] Turner and Turner, Man Corn, 462-484.

[46] For more nuanced discussions, see Lewis Petrinovich, The Cannibal Within (New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 2000), 157-160; Thomas Abler, “Iroquois Cannibalism: Fact not Fiction,” Ethnohistory vol. 27; Donald Forsyth, “The Beginnings of Brazilian Anthropology: Jesuits and Tupinamba Cannibalism,” Journal of Ethnological Research vol. 39, no. 2 (Summer 1983), 147-178; Donald Forsyth, “Three Cheers for Hans Staden: The Case for Brazilian Cannibalism,” Ethnohistory, vol. 32, no. 1, (1985), 17-36;R. Bowden, “Maori Cannibalism: An Interpretation,” Oceania, vol. 55, no. 2: 81-99; Macbeth, Schiefenhovel, and Collinson, “Cannibalism: No Myth, But Why So Rare?,” 193-203.

[47] For this calculation I used the index. When I could not find the group’s name in the index, I counted  manually. Africans – 83-96, 175; Early Man – 119-124; Indians of the Southwest – 125-127; Iroquois – 127-129; Carbis – 44-54, 181; Aztecs – 55-80, 165-167, 181; Tupinamba – 22-31, 73, 143, 175; Polynesians – 32-39; The Fore – 97, 99-115, 181. Arens acknowledges that his book “has undoubtedly omitted someone’s favorite cannibals.” But he realizes that to examine all cases of cannibalism is unfeasible and therefore analyzes “the most popular and best-documented case studies of cannibalism.” 139.

[48] Arens, The Man-Eating Myth, 43.

[49] Ibid, back cover. I could not locate the original New Yorker article.

[50] This scholar is Kim Hill, a professor at the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at Arizona State University, see Lewis Petrinovich, The Cannibal Within (New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 2000), 149. The field of archaeology has had to deal with their own procrustean arguments when it comes to pseudoarchaeology in the vein of “ancient aliens” and the work of Erich von Däniken and Graham Hancock.

[51] For a good example of this in Arens book, see Arens, The Man-Eating Myth, 47-54,  which discuss the Cannibal law of 1503 and page 59-60 on how conquistadors used cannibalism to justify their actions, and also 139-142. Furthermore, Arens idea “that our culture, like many others, finds comfort in the idea of the barbarian just beyond the gates,” is certainly thought provoking. Ibid, 184.

[52] This second-hand account of cannibalism raises a great many suspicions. The little girl is never identified and the means of cannibalization does not match the ritualistic cannibalism found on the Texas Gulf Coast. A.J. Sowell, History of Fort Bend County: Containing Biographical Sketches of Many Noted Characters (Houston: W.H. Coyle & Co., Stationers and Printers, 1904), 91.

[53] Ibid, 10.

[54] See Harner’s “cannibal empire,” footnote 8.

[55] I also want to touch on how Arens’s work gives us a tangible look at the awe-inspiring power historians possess. For those who believed (or still believe) Arens, he successfully erased ritualistic cannibalism from the historical record. All it took was a silver-tongue and a plethora of statements that few feel inclined to fact-check.

[56] Springer, review of The Man-Eating Myth, 150.

[57] In 1997, Arens took some of the new evidence in stride: “I think the procedures are sounder, and there is more evidence for cannibalism than before.” Ann Gibbons, “Archaeologists Rediscover Cannibals,” Science, Aug 1, 1997: Vol. 277, Issue 5326, pp. 635, And in 1998, Arens stated that Turner and Turner’s case for cultural Anasazi cannibalism was “a possible interpretation, even a good interpretation.” Preston, “Cannibals of the Canyon,” 84.



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