|Fossil skull showing healed fracture (from the paper)|
The University of the Witwatersrand has a first rate hominid research unit. Most of the work revolves around the Australopithecus hominids discovered in an area not far from Johannesburg. (A recent important find was described in http://murderiseverywhere.blogspot.com/2010/04/sediba-natural-spring.html )
But interest isn’t exclusive to southern African hominids, and Prof. Lynne Schepartz from the School of Anatomical Sciences has been involved in a ‘forensic’ investigation of the 120,000 year old ‘crime’ which took place in what is now Maba in China. What they discovered was a hominid skull exhibiting a healed fracture. (So it was attempted murder at best.) The nature of the fracture suggested that the skull’s owner had been kyboshed with a blunt object leaving him with a severe head injury which nevertheless healed. The interesting issue is whether this was an accident or deliberate. From careful CT scan analysis and comparison with modern cranial injuries, the scientists decided that it was likely that the person had been attacked. The article appeared this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:
|Detail from CT scan (from the paper)|
Why is that interesting? After all, most animal species fight over territory, mating, or even if in a bad mood. Usually animals don’t kill each other, but it certainly happens. I suppose if we think of murder as the result of fighting outside the accepted cultural norms, then it becomes more of a human thing, although there will be examples from other species also. The main difference here from animal attacks is that a weapon was used and that supposes at least some degree of premeditation.
|Caveman by Tayyar Ozkan|
In any case the victim was lucky to survive. And that is one of the most interesting aspects of the study. It's likely that the victim would not have lived unless he received support and care from his group over a period of some time. He may have suffered amnesia, and certainly he was in no shape to go hunting. So the violence cloud has a silver lining.
But if this was premeditated interpersonal violence as the authors suggest, then it goes back a long way in our family tree. Personal violence isn't any sort of phase we’re going through. If murder-mystery writers go out of business, it will be because no one is reading their books and not because murder is a thing of the past. Murder really is everywhen.
Michael - Thursday