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The First Documented Murder of Humanity

The earliest known homicide known to, and documented by, scientists allegedly occurred in Spain. They might have solved the mystery after analysing a 4,30,000-year-old skull. The researchers explain that studying the lethal wounds identified on the skull also indirectly provides evidence for possibly the earliest funeral procedures. The findings are published in the journal PLOS ONE.


Excavation works in the Sima de los Huesos cave system in Spain in 2010. Photo credits: Agence France-Presse.

Working on an underground archaeological site, the Sima de los Huesos, in the north of Spain, an international team of researchers found the remains of around 28 people in the cave system. The skeletons are said to be 4,30,000 years of age, from the Middle Pleistocene era. To penetrate through the deep caves, the scientists passed through a 13-meter deep vertical shaft. The question is, how did the human bodies reach there?

Of the remains is a practically complete skull, identified as Cranium 17. 52 cranial fragments were obtained over a period of 20 years from excavation works. The skull in question reveals wounds above the left eye: 2 penetrating lesions on the frontal bone.

“Evidence for interpersonal violence in the human fossil record is relatively scarce, and this would appear to represent the oldest cold case on record,” said anthropologist Rolf Quam, from the Binghamton University.

Upon examining the two fractures, the researchers found that both of them might have been created by 2 separate impacts. The skull was probably hit with the same tool twice. The trajectories of the two fractures are slightly different. According to the researchers’ interpretation, the wounds were not the likely result of an accidental fall down the shaft.
On the other hand, they believe that they might be signs of lethal aggression. They are of the opinion that this might very well be the first murder case in human history.

Also, since it is unlikely that the people fell into the cave through the vertical shaft, they might have been brought in by other humans when they were already dead. This would imply that the evidence is pointing at the earliest funerary practices known to humans.

“This is really good evidence for an intentional role for humans in the accumulation of bodies at the bottom of this pit and suggests the hominins from this time period were already engaging in complex cognitive behaviours,” Quam added.


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