Scientists Discover Evidence Of A 435,000-Year-Old Murder
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Scientists have discovered evidence of what they think might be the earliest-known murder. This is based on injuries to a skull from the Pleistocene era. It was found in a mass grave known as the Pit of the Bones in Spain. NPR's Sam Sanders has the story.
SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: Episodes of localized blunt-force trauma to the skull, an intent to kill, 3-D imaging to re-create the injuries, a homicide that's 435,000 years old.
ROLF QUAM: What we have is an example of an individual who was attacked with an object by another human, and they suffered two lethal blows to the front of the skull.
SANDERS: That's Rolf Quam. He's a professor at Binghamton University and part of the team that found that skull. He says the evidence is clear.
QUAM: The fact that there are two of these fractures on the frontal bone seems to imply a pretty clear intention to kill.
SANDERS: A murder.
QUAM: A murder.
SANDERS: Or intentional interpersonal violence - that's what it's called in the study. Danielle Kurin says what you call it matters.
DANIELLE KURIN: So I think there's clear evidence here for lethal trauma which caused death. Now, is this actually a case of murder? I don't think so.
SANDERS: Kurin studies bio-archaeology at the University of California Santa Barbara. She wasn't involved in the study, but she says there's a lot about this case we just don't know.
KURIN: We could call it, perhaps, self-defense. We could call it a fit of rage or passion. Why do people hurt each other? Food, water, women, men - yeah, sure - but was the intention to hurt someone, or was it to kill someone?
SANDERS: Well, the researchers say they do know that the body was buried - dropped down a 43-foot shaft into a mass grave. And that shows that even pre-humans - this skull was from an ancestor of the Neanderthal - even they took time to bury their dead. Kurin says that raises some bigger questions.
KURIN: Why are we, as modern humans, unique? You know, we used to think, well, we bury our dead. That's what makes us human. Well, now we see that's not true. We can construct, you know, murderous intent. Well, that may not be the case either anymore.
SANDERS: The study of this skull, this maybe-murder, this burial, it appears in the journal PLOS One. Sam Sanders, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.