Lethal wounds on skull may indicate 430,000-year-old murder

Lethal wounds on skull may indicate 430,000-year-old murder
A frontal view of Cranium 17 showing the position of the traumatic events T1 (inferior) and T2 (superior). Credit: Javier Trueba / Madrid Scientific Films

Lethal wounds identified on a human skull in the Sima de los Huesos, Spain, may indicate one of the first cases of murder in human history, some 430,000 years ago, according to a study published May 27 2015 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Nohemi Sala from Centro Mixto UCM-ISCIII de Evolución y Comportamiento Humanos, Spain, and colleagues.

The archeological site, Sima de los Huesos in northern Spain, is located deep within an underground cave system and contains the skeletal remains of at least 28 individuals that date to around 430,000 years ago, during the Middle Pleistocene. The only access to the site is through a 13-meter deep vertical shaft, and how the human bodies arrived there remains a mystery.

A nearly complete skull, Cranium 17 from the Sima de los Huesos, is comprised of 52 cranial fragments recovered during excavations at the site over the last 20 years. This skull shows two penetrating lesions on the frontal bone, above the left eye. Relying on modern forensic techniques, such as contour and trajectory analysis of the traumas, the authors of the study showed that both fractures were likely produced by two separate impacts by the same object, with slightly different trajectories around the time of the individual's death. According to the authors, the injuries are unlikely to be the result of an accidental fall down the vertical shaft. Rather, the type of fracture, their location, and that they appear to have been produced by two blows with the same object lead the authors to interpret them as the result of an act of lethal interpersonal aggression—or what may constitute the earliest case of murder in .

Furthermore, if this individual was already dead, the authors found that they were likely carried to the top of the vertical shaft by other humans. The authors suggest that humans were likely responsible for the accumulation of bodies in the Sima de los Huesos, which supports the idea that this site represents early evidence of funerary behavior.

Explore further

Oldest hominin DNA sequenced

More information: Sala N, Arsuaga JL, Pantoja-Pérez A, Pablos A, Martínez I, Quam RM, et al. (2015) Lethal Interpersonal Violence in the Middle Pleistocene. PLoS ONE 10(5): e0126589. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0126589
Journal information: PLoS ONE

Citation: Lethal wounds on skull may indicate 430,000-year-old murder (2015, May 27) retrieved 18 October 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2015-05-lethal-wounds-skull-year-old.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments

May 27, 2015
Move along nothing new here...

Primates observed in jungles murder one another.

May 27, 2015
Yup, simple gang of thieves and the hole made a great place to get rid of bodies.....

May 27, 2015
Can it be murder before there were laws?

May 27, 2015
Can it be murder before there were laws?

Apparently you don't put much thought into what makes good good and evil evil.

Murder is the willful taking of another human life without just cause.

capital punishment has never been considered murder.

May 28, 2015
HVK: It isn't that easy, IMO.

As Pinker notes, the self-socialized species that is us is know amazingly non-violent compared to the past. They have started to observe chimp/bonobo violence, and while the statistics is not robust chimps looks to be at least as often killing in-species as humans. (And possibly the seemingly peaceful bonobo too, the statistics is too weak to say anything.)

You can say, again, so what? But it is good to have a real baseline to place these finds in context.

@CuriousMan, Returners: 'Good' and 'evil' are religious concepts, and murder is a modern jurisdictional claim. I think CuriousMan makes a valid note/objection, using modern labels are for convenience and the historical context can be lost.

So we need to observe these conveniences. I didn't, so - good catch!


May 28, 2015

Cf: Yesterday I read about an extraordinary preserved sealed off burial part of a cave with a find of flower seeds, indicating 20-30 km of whole flower transport from the plant locale, in a 16 kyrs old grave. (IIRC the details, unfortunately I didn't save the reference.)

It was claimed to be the oldest such find that has ties to modern burial culture. (Say, older burials had often bodies put on their side, this had too, while today we put bodies on their back - globally, I think.)

It is hard to constrain the cultural context far back. It is somewhat easier to observe the primary actions of the individuals, and make rough classifications - for what little information they can give.

May 28, 2015
Perhaps this was a casualty of war and thus not murder.

May 28, 2015
Perhaps this was a casualty of war and thus not murder.

I agree that the word murder shouldn't be used

May 28, 2015
Hmmm.... caveman mafia hit?

May 29, 2015
It looks as though he was eating an apple or a pomegranate when a left-handed attacker tripped him first and then hit him with a rock he had shaped into a deadly weapon.

May 30, 2015
We know what it was. Sacrificial killing. Now what's left is to find out who did it and bring them to justice. There is no statue of limitation for murder and US has worldwide jurisdiction. It is however very good replacement subject for something of merit.

May 31, 2015
@PM: No, the violence was without context. That is why the observation "lead the authors to interpret them as the result of an act of lethal interpersonal aggression" instead of claiming, say, sacrifice.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more