430,000-year-old skull may belong to world’s earliest known murder victim

The skull of a prehistoric human that lived 430,000 years ago and found in a cave in northern Spain. (Sala et al./PLOS One)

Scientists believe they have found the world’s-oldest known murder and the unsolved crime stretches back nearly half-a-million years.

In a study published in the journal PLOS One on Wednesday, researchers said a fossilized skull found in a cave in Spain shows signs of lethal “interpersonal violence” or murder. The skull was found in burial site down a 13-metre shaft in a mass grave named Sima de los Huesos, Spanish for “Pit of the Bones,” in the Atapuerca mountains.

As evidence of murder, scientists reconstructed the prehistoric skull, dubbed “Cranium 17,” and found two fractures just above the left eye. According to the study, the size and shape of the two holes led researchers to conclude they came from the same weapon.

“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,” Nohemi Sala, a paleontologist at Spain’s Complutense University of Madrid, told Reuters.

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Along with the cold case victim,  the remains of 27 others were found at the bottom of the bone pit.

The remains weren’t of modern humans, but members of Homo heidelbergensis, a human species from the Middle Pleistocene that wandered Europe, Africa and possibly Asia roughly 700,000 to 200,000 years ago, according to the study.

However, while scientists believe this is a case of murder most foul they aren’t able to determine what may have motivated the attack.

“Unfortunately, the intentions do not fossilize, so it is impossible to interpret the motivation of the killing,” Sala told Reuters.

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