Archaeology find: the World’s First Murder Victim?

Forensic evidence has uncovered the most fascinating find: archaeologists have found a pre-Neanderthal skull dating back 430,000 years that shows two very significant cranial fractures. Using specialized techniques to examine the skull, scientists have concluded that the murder victim was very likely killed by two blows to the head, after which he was tossed down a 42.6-foot cave system.

Found in the “Pit of Bones”: earliest instance of human violence

The recovered skeletal remains of the murder victim were dug up from a cave system in northern Spain, popularly known as Sima de los Huesos, or “Pit of Bones.” The site is located in the Atapuerca Mountains, where fossils and stone tools belonging to the earliest known Hominins in western Europe have been discovered. 52 fragments of the skull were uncovered. Two holes, close together in distance, appear on the skull. Both sit above the left eye, made by two different impacts from the same object. These two separate injuries were identified as closely matching in the shape of their fractures and size. The different orientations of the injuries mark distinct trajectories made by the weapon, and strongly suggest a face-to-face combat between the murder victim and his killer.

Cruel intentions: a study in human behavior

The case of this murder victim sheds light on what could very likely be the first known instance of deliberate, lethal, interpersonal aggression in the Hominin record. This only strengthens the theory that acting upon instinctual violence was a part of the earliest humans on Earth.

Known as Cranium 17, the remains of the skull neatly identify with the remains of 6,700 bones of at least 28 other individuals who date back 430,000 years. All were found in a chamber at the very end of the cave shaft. So far, however, the only indications of intentional murder are carved on Cranium 17. Researchers are more or less positive that a weapon such as a wooden spear or stone hand axe caused the fractures — a lot of force would have been needed to have the dense bone knock into the brain.

Only two possible cases of murder have been studied in the fossil record. One is a Neanderthal who died weeks after suffering a penetrated bodily wound. The other was identified as an early modern human from the Upper Paleolithic period, who likely experienced an injury from sharp trauma.