A cache of cooked and and carved human bones has been discovered in Mexico - backing up fables that cannibalism was practised by an ancient tribe.

The bones were found in El Salto, Durango State, northern Mexico, in a cave hamlet built into a cliff.

The site - called Cueva del Maguey - dates back to around 1425 and was formerly home to the Xiximes tribe.

© EPABone house: Archaeologists excavate Cueva del Maguey, Mexico, where a cache of human bones was discovered which proves the Xiximes tribe were cannibals
The archaeological trove included more than three dozen human bones which showed evidence of having been defleshed, cooked and then ritualistically marked with stone blades.

Rumours of cannibalism among the 5,000-strong Xiximes have long existed due to the historical accounts of Jesuit missionaries, which labelled the tribe 'the wildest and most barbarian people of the New World'.

© UnknownBone arrows: A marked human rib (bottom) and two engraved arrows found at Cueva del Maguey
The Xiximes apparently believed they could guarantee a good harvest if they consumed the souls of their enemies - often fellow tribesmen from neighbouring villages - ate their bodies and hung their bones from trees as offerings to the spirits.

There had previously been no scientific evidence to back up those early accounts, often derided as hysterical exaggerations, but the team behind the discovery and subsequent research says the bones, which have laid virtually undisturbed for centuries, offer concrete proof.

© EPABone room: Cueva del Maguey is a cave built into the side of cliff in El Salto, in the Mexican mountains of Durango
Cannibalism 'was a crucial aspect of their world view, their identity,' said José Luis Punzo, an archaeologist with the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH).

'Through their rituals, cannibalism, and bone-hoarding, they marked a clear boundary between an "us" and "them".'

The rituals were tied to the agricultural cycle of planting and sowing corn, according to the research reported in National Geographic.

After each harvest, the warriors of the Xiximes were sent to hunt for flesh, preying often on lone men working in isolated conditions in the pine forest region, some 8,530ft above sea level.

While there were battles with other tribes, and a ready menu of Spanish colonials too, only the bodies of the Xiximes people had value for the rituals.

© UnknownThe bones were found in El Salto, Durango State, northern Mexico, in a hamlet of caves built into a cliff
The warriors brought their unwilling victims back to the village where they were ripped limb from limb.

The bones were cleaned and the flesh eaten in soup as part of an all-night celebration complete with tribal song and dance.

The bones were then stored in treasure houses until the start of the planting season when they would be hung from trees as an offering to the spirits the tribe believed would bless the crops.

It appears to be one of those bone storage houses that has been discovered in the research by the INAH, which was announced at the 14th Archaeology Conference of the North Frontier in Paquimé, Mexico.