Forensic analysis clarifies A Paleolithic Murder

In the midst of World War II, a group of Romanian miners found a human skull in a transylvanian cave. Years later it was determined that it was about 33,000 years old and belonged to an adult man. Since its discovery, he has intrigued paleoanthropologists. One of the causes of this intrigue is two fractures in the top of the skull. Although many settled it by saying that they were the product of the action of time on the fossil, a group of ancient forensics has now determined that they were provoked in life by two heavy blows to the head that caused his death. It would be one of the oldest modern human murders.

"The man suffered two skull fractures, one linear and one sinking fracture that, according to forensic evidence, occurred around the time of the individual's death," describes the forensic anthropologist at the University of Crete (Greece) and co-author of the article published in the journal PLoSONE, Elena Kranioti. Both the first lesion, in the occipital bone at the posterior base of the skull, and the second in the right parietal bone, show no sign of healing such as fusions or skeletal calluses. This means that they did not have time to heal, which can only indicate one of two: either they occurred in their fossilization process or around death. Perimortemlesions, in forensic jargon.

To find out if it was before or after, the researchers analyzed in great detail the computerized tomography (CT) images of Cioclovina's skull (by the cave where it was found) from every possible angle. In life, bones, especially those of the skull, have a relative elasticity that they lose shortly after their owner has died. In addition, the effects of each type of impact depend on many intrinsic factors (morphology and thickness of the bone, position of the body at the time of the hit, presence of previous and extrinsic lesions (speed of impact, height in case of a fall, shape and composition of the object...).

The skull has two fractures probably caused by two consecutive blows with a stick

Viewed at the CT, the injuries gave a lot of clues. The sinking fracture has small chipped pieces of bone still attached to the rest of the bone. In addition, it has a very determined fracture line, expanding concentrically. Meanwhile, the blow at the back base of the skull affects the foramenmagnum, a kind of hole through which all nerve connections to the rest of the body come down, and the fracture continues to the sphenoid, which is deep in the face, appearing as Deformed. Injuries like this could only be perimortem. "In a postmortem break would be missing marks of plastic deformation and would be broken at irregular right angles," Kranioti says.

Now they had to determine the cause of the blows and whether they were the ones that killed the skull owner. To do this, researchers used a dozen spheres made of artificial bone and filled with a special gelatin used in brain-like ballistic. They did everything: they threw them from three and 10 meters, beat them with a stone and with a stick once or twice and leaning against a surface or held. The only fractures that fit those of the Transylvania skull are those that were caused by the stick in two successive blows, as published in PLoSONE.

Forensic analysis suggests that the attack occurred head-on and that the perpetrator of the blows should be left-handed or used both hands to hold the stick, which should have a rounded shape. The picture could be summarized as a death from head trauma by brute force. Reviewing the literature on fractures caused by sticks and similar objects, the scientists found a macabre coincidence. In 2006, U.S. Army forensics studying the bodies of Khmer Red Khmer prisoners in Cambodia found that many of them had severe-induced skull injuries. During the four years of his terror, in the 1970s, the Khmer Rojo used to slam in the head. The most common injury is like the linear fracture of the skull of Cioclovine, which comes from the Paleolithic, 33,000 years ago.

One of the lesions, at the base of the skull, is reminiscent of those caused by the fairness of the Khmer Reds

Cioclovina's is not the first murder in human history, but it is relevant because it shows the continuity of violence between current humans and those who preceded them. In 2015 Spanish researchers published the analysis of what could be, this time yes, the first murder recorded in the fossil record. This is the case of skull 17, found in the Sima de los Huesos, at the Atapuerca site in Burgos. There, among many other accumulated human remains, was found this skull from 430,000 years ago that shows two holes at the height of the forehead. The object they were made with must have gone all the way to the brain.

"They must have been two very straight blows, perhaps to the beak," says paleontologist Juan Luis Arsuaga, co-author of the discovery of skull 17 and who has not intervened in the forensic analysis of Cioclovina's skull. Arsuaga clarifies that it is not easy to determine the degree of violence between the various hominins because there are not many fractures among the fossils. "But already in Atapuerca we have examples of cannibalism from 800,000 years ago, cannibalism after murder." Says. What he does believe, supported by the data, is that the violence in the Paleolithic tended to be from the group towards the individual, towards which he deviated from the norm, was a violence of social control. "It is in the Neolithic that we can talk about organized violence between groups, proactive rather than reactive, almost wars between groups."

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