This documentary series is a challenging and comprehensive examination of the evidence and explanations for the existence of cannibalism in our society ranging in breadth from Russia to Fiji, from homo erectus to modern man, and from archaeological and forensic evidence to the latest theories of psychologists and behavioural scientists.

Cannibalism holds a morbid fascination for the Western world. From Victorian tales of the 'missionary in the pot' to the iconic status of modern cinema's cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lecter, people who eat other people have always shocked and appalled society. This series tells the story of how, since man's earliest incarnation cannibalism has been a central part of human behaviour and how even today, in some parts of the world, it still remains central to human culture and custom.

In the first edition "The Real Hannibal Lecters" we are taken into the lives of four of the most infamous 'cannibal killers' of recent times: Jeffrey Dahmer, Arthur Shawcross, Andrei Chikatilo and Issei Sagawa who never stood trial for the murder he committed due to mental instability.

In the second part, "Bones of Contention" we are shown how new archaeological evidence is proving that cannibalism was practiced far more widely in pre-history than we previously thought.

Last year, a set of human bones was found at the bottom of Eton lake in Berkshire. Archaeologists dated the bones back to the early Iron Age 3000 years ago. The bones, mainly legs, were brought to Professor Margaret Cox of Bournemouth University. Her analysis discovered teeth marks and fine cut marks made by a very sharp blade. Might these bones be the latest evidence in a human story that goes back nearly 1 million years?

In the Atapuerca Hills in Northern Spain, human bones dating back 800,000 years were found six years ago. Like the Eton bones, the bones were broken at the ends and had similar cut marks. 12,000-year-old bones of five people found recently in the Cheddar Gorge also had cut marks on the bones. Analysis of animal bones shows that in the all these cases humans were being butchered and processed like animals. But was human flesh being eaten or was this activity part of some kind of ritualistic ceremony?

The Spanish findings suggest that the bones were indeed broken for the highly nutritional marrow inside and the teeth marks on the Eaton bones certainly give the theory of cannibalism some weight. If we accept that cannibalism was taking place, the next question is why? Was it purely for food and nutrition or was it something more sinister?

In the final part "Man Meat" Imagine a choice between dying and eating human flesh. The final programme of this series considers some of the 20th century's most devastating famines and the most extraordinary stories of human endurance to examine how ­ when faced with certain death ­ man's survival instinct enables him to break even the strongest of taboos.

The former Soviet Union has known two great famines within living memory that have resulted in the deaths of as many as 14 million people. "People started to eat their animals, and when all this was exhausted they started to die," said Bishop ALEXANDER BYKOWETSZ, a survivor of the Ukrainian famine. "At some instances, when there was nothing to eat and no one to turn to for help, the mothers, being already in a hunger fever and out of their minds, even started to eat their own babies."

The 900-day siege of Leningrad, begun in 1941 by the German army, resulted in the deaths of one third of the city's population - more than a million people. An extract from the diary of ten-year-old Valery Suhov reads "Daddy is ready to eat the corpses of the people killed in the bombing, mummy says no. It's a month now since we ate our last bits of hard food."

China too, has suffered from many devastating famines in the last century, though the film concentrates more on other aspects of cannibalism. It examines an ancient belief in the healing powers of medicines made from human body parts, presenting contemporary accounts of these beliefs being practiced and detailing the illegal trade in human embryos recently uncovered in Hong Kong.

The film also documents acts of triumphalist cannibalism that occurred during Chairman Mao's Cultural Revolution. Writer ZHENG YI tells the story of one middle school in which the students denounced a teacher as a class enemy and beat him to death. They then forced a colleague to cut him open and remove his liver, which they ate. "Normal human notions of kindness and compassion were turned upside down (by the revolution)," commented Yi. "There were no moral or ethical obstacles left to killing and eating people."

In the final part the film analyses a 1972 air crash which left 32 survivors stranded in the Andes. With fascinating testimony from two of the 16 men who survived the 72-day ordeal, the story is told of how they decided to eat the bodies of those who had died. FERNANDO PARRADO, who made a heroic ten-day trek out of the mountains to alert rescuers, stated "it was far more difficult for us to fight against the thirst and the cold then to eat human flesh."

Throughout the film, experts offer psychological and historical analysis of the various 'descents' into cannibalism, demonstrating that the capacity to eat human flesh is by no means limited to the serial killer or our primitive past. Archaeologist Dr TIMOTHY TAYLOR concludes, "Looking back at the last 100 years of survival cannibalism, in the context of thousands of years of human behaviour, confirms in my mind that cannibalism in one form or another is a basic human behaviour or mode."

Produced by : Daniel Korn

Production Company : 3BM TV

Genre: Documentary

Running Time: 80 minutes (approx)