Archaeologists believe they have uncovered the proof of a 430,000-year-old mystery in a cave in Northern Spain. The skull, which had to be pieced together, bears the tell-tale signs of deliberate, lethal and blunt-force trauma.
This one-of-a-kind piece of evidence is called Cranium 17 and was discovered broken apart into 52 pieces which researchers had to reassemble. It had remained hidden under multiple layers of clay in caves at the Atapuerca Mountains, at the Sima de los Huesos archaeological site.
Discovered more than 30 years ago, Sima de los Huesos housed the remains of 28 Neanderthal individuals who lived between 781,000 and 126,000 years ago.
After its reconstruction, the skull (which belonged) revealed two holes located above the left eye socket. These two distinct fractures seem to have been inflicted by the same weapon. Cranium 17 belonged to a prehistoric human, related to Neanderthals, who is believed to have lived approximately 430,000 years ago.
The team of scientists who made the discovery explain that this human skull provides evidence that Homo sapiens isn’t the only descendent of the Neanderthal lineage that can claim a monopoly on murder. They explain that this discovery proves that murder and violence predated modern human times by approximately 230,000 years.
“This study contributes to that debate by suggesting intentional assault between two people has deep roots in our hominid human history,” forensic anthropologist Danielle Kurin explains.
Scientists have yet to determine the gender of Cranium 17’s owner. Most likely, the victim was a 20-year-old male. However, this particular skull stood out from all other remains found at Sima de los Huesos. The team subjected Cranium 17 to a variety of modern-day forensic tests, including CT scans and 3D models of the skull.
They then attempted to recreate the weapon’s trajectory by performing measurements of the fracture angle. Researchers concluded that the victim was facing the murderer when the two blows occurred.
Crack patterns and signs of healing were also taken into account, as scientists wanted to determine whether the wound occurred before or after death. The team concluded that both strikes took place near the time of death, but not postmortem. Moreover, both wounds broke through the skull and punctured the brain.
The wounds, scientists say, suggest clear homicidal intent for several reasons. Accidental trauma occurs more often on the sides of the head. Contrastingly, intentional blows or violence is focused on the face and the top of the head.
Moreover, the two distinct holes are the result of two successive blows and multiple strikes clearly point to a homicidal intention. Researchers also believe that the assailant may have been right-handed because both puncture wounds were located on the left side of the face.
Until now, evidence of murder among early humans has been difficult to obtain. That’s precisely why the author’s paper is so unusual. The victim is believed to have died as a direct result of these wounds, making Cranium 17 the earliest evidence of murder.
Image Source: Earth Magazine
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