Spanish cave reveals ancient murder mystery

Updated: 2015-06-01 07:28

By Reuters(China Daily)

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Scientists working in a Spanish cave may have stumbled across the world's oldest murder mystery.

A fossilized skull belonging to a primitive member of the Neanderthal lineage shows two fractures inflicted by the same weapon.

The 430,000-year-old skull was found with the remains of 30 individuals in an apparent funerary site at the bottom of a 13-meter shaft in the bleak-sounding Sima de los Huesos, or Pit of the Bones, in the Atapuerca mountains.

"This individual was killed in an act of lethal interpersonal violence, providing a window into an often-invisible aspect of the social life of our human ancestors," said paleontologist Nohemi Sala.

This oldest-known example of murder occurred 230,000 years before our species first appeared in Africa.

"Based on the similarities in shape and size of both the wounds, we believe they are the result of repeated blows with the same object and inflicted by another individual, perhaps in a face to face encounter," Sala added.

The murder victim suffered two penetrating fractures on the forehead's left side, above the eye. Using forensic methods, the researchers interpreted the wounds, each nearly 2 centimeters wide, as evidence of blunt-force trauma occurring around the time of death.

Sala said the weapon may have been a wooden spear, stone spear tip or stone hand-axe.

"Unfortunately, intentions do not fossilize, so it is impossible to interpret the motivation of the killing," Sala said. "Not even Sherlock Holmes could help us in that."

(China Daily 06/01/2015 page12)