(ORDO NEWS) — The Spanish archaeologist who helped piece together what may be the earliest murder in human history has published another study showing evidence of nine more murders at the same location.
Over the past 30 years, archaeologists have recovered more than 2,000 bone fragments from 29 people from the Sima de los Huesos archaeological site in northern Spain.
The bones, located deep in the underground cavern system, represent a species of human, Homo heidelbergensis, who walked the earth about 430,000 years ago during the Middle Pleistocene.
“At the moment we have 20 individuals represented by skulls and jaws, out of 29 that we estimate based on the dentition,” said Nohemi Sala, researcher at the National Center for Research on Human Evolution (Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana, CENIEH ), who regularly excavates the site and is the lead author of the latest study.
“This huge number of samples made it possible to study the forensic taphonomy of the fossil population, which would be unthinkable outside the walls of this chamber.”
In 2015, Sala and colleagues assembled a nearly complete skull – Skull 17 – from 52 skull fragments found during excavations at Sima de los Huesos over the course of two decades. According to the study, two penetrating lesions were found on the skull, on the frontal bone, above the left eye.
Drawing on modern forensic techniques such as contour and trajectory analysis of injuries, Sala and colleagues showed that both fractures most likely resulted from two separate impacts with the same object, with slightly different trajectories around the time of death. person.
According to the authors, the injuries are unlikely to be the result of an accidental fall down a vertical shaft. Rather, the type of fractures, their location, and the fact that they appeared to have been caused by two hits with the same object allowed the team to interpret them as the result of an act of lethal aggression even possibly the earliest case of murder in the history of mankind.
“By looking at points such as marks and fractures on fossils, we can decipher the processes as if we were performing an autopsy,” Sala said in her newest study, which reveals more information about the skull bones found, including the time and type of injury.
It was previously determined that 17 of the 20 individuals found with skulls received non-fatal blunt force injuries that managed to heal to death.
But now, in a new study published in the journal PLOS ONE, Sala and her team have confirmed the presence of a new individual with post-mortem skull fractures, bringing the total to nine individuals with evidence of head injuries that could have been fatal.
Notably, of the nine individuals with post-mortem injuries, six had penetrating fractures in the left occipital region.
“This pattern is so repetitive that it leaves little room for interpretation. The location is not what would be expected for accidental injuries, and is more suited to intentional injuries, so these injuries are interpreted as possible cases of violence, as in the case of skull 17” , explains the research team.
Archaeologists have also documented post-mortem changes, showing that the bones were eroded as a result of sediment pressure and mineral precipitation, characteristics that are unique to cave environments. The team did not record any traces of the transportation of the remains over long distances.
“We can interpret this to mean that the skeletons entered the cave fully completed and shortly after death,” says Sala.
Based on previous research, as well as these new findings, the researchers are confident that humans were most likely responsible for the accumulation of bodies at Sima de los Huesos, suggesting that the site represents early evidence of mortuary behavior.
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