Enlightened murder from the Stone Age

The former Europeans were victims of violence 33, 000 years ago

Two brutal blows to the head probably sealed the fate of this early European. © Kranoti et al, 2019
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Brutally Murdered: Researchers have revealed a 33, 000-year-old death as a murder. Her analysis of the skull injury of an early European from Romania shows: This man got two targeted blows with a club on the head during his lifetime - and died in all likelihood. The perpetrator of this Paleolithic murder is retrospectively no longer observed. But it is clear that he was left-handed.

Violence, murder and manslaughter are not a modern phenomenon: even among Neanderthals there were deadly feuds, massacres and even cannibalism and Homo sapiens did not always deal with his fellow humans squeamishly. For example, skeletal finds confirm that our ancestors were already waging wars thousands of years ago and executing brutal mass executions. A famous murder victim is also the glacier man "Ötzi", who died about 5, 000 years ago of serious injuries.

Post mortem or not?

Another case of lethal violence has now been confirmed by anthropologists around Elena Kranioti of the University of Crete. The victim: A man who blessed the time 33, 000 years ago in today's Romania. Found in 1941 in the Cioclovina Cave in southern Transylvania, the skeleton is one of the few surviving fossils of early modern Europeans - and has since its discovery repeatedly provided for discussion.

The big question was: was the conspicuous fracture on the right side of the skull of this dead man post mortem, or was the man so violently injured during his lifetime? "The latter interpretation was recently called into question, also because the fracture in the first description of the find of 1942 does not occur, " explain the researchers.

Two incidents of blunt force

To find out what really happened back then, Kranioti and her colleagues took a closer look at the skull injury. To do so, they examined the fossil using computed tomography and tested different scenarios on skull models - from collapses to falling stones to targeted strokes. How was the fracture best explained? display

The evaluations revealed that the damage to the skull had to be caused by a twofold impact of blunt force before death. "Both the analysis of the injury pattern and the experimental models exclude a post-mortem cause, " notes the team.

Conflict with deadly end

Instead, the results suggest the following scenario: The man from the Palaeolithic era was hit two times from the very next nook. The second was most likely added to him with a round club or a club, the T ter held the weapon in his left hand and must have faced his opponent head-on.

The case seems clear: it was murder or at least manslaughter. "This early modern European became a victim of violence deliberately inflicted on him by another human being, " the scientists say. "We're talking about a personal conflict that probably ended in death, " says Kranioti. Both the extent of the injury and the lack of signs of healing point to this fatal outcome of the altercation.

Since only the skull of the skeleton and no other body parts are obtained, it can not be ruled out that the man suffered other, deadly injuries, as the researchers report.

Violence was part of everyday life

This death once again proves that even in early Paleolithic Europe, violence was obviously part of everyday life. "The ancient Palolithic was a time of increasing cultural complexity and technological advances. Our results show that violent conflicts and even murders are also part of the behavioral repertoire of the earliest modern Europeans, "concludes the research team. (PLOS One, 2019; doi: 10.1371 / journal.pone.0216718)

Source: PLOS / Senckenberg Society for Research on Nature

- Daniel Albat