This page is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Louis S.B. Leakey.

Investigating the Case of the Earliest Known Murder Victim – Smithsonian Institute

A 430,000-year-old skull discovered in a Spanish cave bears evidence of deliberate, lethal blunt force trauma

(Javier Trueba/Madrid Scientific Films)
(Javier Trueba/Madrid Scientific Films)

Violence is often said to be a fundamental part of human nature. Now there’s evidence to support that claim. In a cave in northern Spain, archeological detectives discovered the remains of a 430,000-year-old skull bearing what appears to be lethal, deliberately inflicted blunt force trauma. If the scientists’ interpretation of the wound is accurate, the skull represents the earliest known murder.

To piece this dark story together, an international team of researchers had to assemble the evidence—literally. The ancient hominin skull, called Cranium 17, was discovered broken into 52 pieces, buried under layers of clay in a deep pit within a cavern in the Atapuerca Mountains. The specific site in question, Sima de los Huesos (“Pit of Bones”), was discovered in 1984 and contains the remains of at least 28 early Neanderthal individuals from the Middle Pleistocene, a period ranging from about 781,000 to 126,000 years ago.

Cranium 17 showed no evidence of healing, but neither did it appear to have been damaged postmortem. In other words, the victim most likely died from their wounds. In addition, the blows were probably not an accident, the authors say—accidents tend to happen on the side of the head, whereas intentional violence tends to be focused on the face.

 Researchers used a 3D model to analyze the skull's two fractures in detail. Photo: Sala et al., PLOS ONE Read more: Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12! Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter
Researchers used a 3D model to analyze the skull’s two fractures in detail. Photo: Sala et al., PLOS ONE

While ancient skeletons examined in past studies have turned up evidence of cannibalism and injury, none of those deaths have definitively been linked to murder. As such, Cranium 17 represents the earliest case of murder in the hominin fossil record, the authors write, “demonstrating that this is an ancient human behavior.”

One More Homo Species? – Heritage Daily

Homo floresiensis : Wiki Commons

A recent 3D-comparative analysis confirms the status of Homo floresiensis as a fossil human species.

Ever since the discovery of the remains in 2003, scientists have been debating whether Homo floresiensis represents a distinct Homo species, possibly originating from a dwarfed island Homo erectus population, or a pathological modern human. The small size of its brain has been argued to result from a number of diseases, most importantly from the condition known as microcephaly.

Based on the analysis of 3-D landmark data from skull surfaces, scientists from Stony Brook University New York, the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment, Eberhard-Karls Universität Tübingen, and the University of Minnesota provide compelling support for the hypothesis that Homo floresiensis was a distinct Homo species.

The study, titled “Homo floresiensis contextualized: a geometric morphometric comparative analysis of fossil and pathological human samples,” is published in the July 10 edition of PLOS ONE.

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