Prehistoric Skull may Show First Signs of Human Violence against Fellow Man

A prehistoric skull believed to date from more than 120,000 years ago may show the earliest recorded evidence of human violence but on the positive side, the person who was attacked, hit by some form of hard object on the skull, did live to fight another day.  Scientists have suggested the skull shows the tell-tale marks of an attack by another human being, but as the skull also shows signs of healing, the victim did at least recover from the blow.

The discovery is based on highly detailed CT scans of a 126,000-year-old human known as Maba Man, so named because his fossil remains were found near Maba in Guangdong Province (China) in 1958.  The scans revealed a skull fracture caused by blunt force trauma.  The victim was probably clubbed with a weapon such as a stone, heavy bone, or lump of wood, according to a new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

To view replicas and models of ancient hominids such as Neanderthals: Neanderthal Figures and Prehistoric Animal Models (CollectA Prehistoric Life).

Prehistoric Skull

The skull was found in a cave and it had been gnawed by some form of giant rodent.  The researchers have speculated that the teeth marks may have been left by a porcupine.

Although, the injury could have been caused by having been hit by another person, it is also possible that the injury resulted from a severe fall – sadly there is no accident record so we can only speculate.

Researcher Lynne Schepartz, of the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa commented:

“This person had a pretty serious injury, it would have been a real good knock to the head.”

She went onto add that the blow, if that is what it was, most likely caused bleeding and a concussion – inducing nausea, vomiting and perhaps even brain damage, leaving the victim prone and helpless.  However, if the wound shows our species violent side, the CT scans also showed that the wound eventually healed and that Maba Man lived for many years afterwards, something that indicates that the hurt man was likely cared for after his injury.  So this wound may show our darker side but also suggests evidence of human compassion.

A Picture of the “Mapa Man” Skull with Close up Showing the Wound

“Signs of a Bashing”.

Picture credit: University of the Witwatersrand

Schepartz stated:

“The bone was depressed inward, pressing on soft tissue and yet this person survived for a long period of time and it was not the immediate cause of [his] death.”

Although an accident cannot be ruled out, modern forensic science and other evidence points to foul play, the researchers report.   Consider it a bit like a game of “Cluedo”, instead of Professor Green in the library with the lead pipe, it may have been an early human in the cave, with a large rock.

An Ancient Assault

Ruling out the likelihood of a severe fall, Schepartz said:

“It’s hard to imagine how you would get just that one area of impact from, say, a fall.”

The fossilised remains of this early human indicate that he lived until his mid forties, a great age for one of our ancestors, as most early H. sapiens were lucky if they reached their thirtieth birthday.

Professor Erik Trinkhaus of Washington University (St Louis) commenting on the study, stated that older skulls showed signs of wounds and damage, but this injury was probably caused by “getting whooped by someone else” to put in bluntly.

The team says his recovery supports evidence from previous fossil studies that Neanderthals and other ancient humans, while often violently aggressive, also took care of their sick and vulnerable.  No one will ever know the real cause of the injury, but it can be postulated that it was caused by a blow from another person, the victim being cared for until he recovered.

Researchers at the University of Witwatersrand have helped provide further insights into the ancestry of our species.  Recently, Everything Dinosaur team members wrote about the discovery of ancient hominid fossils – A. sediba.

To read an article on this: Unlocking the secrets of our Ancestors.