Liesbeth Kemel July 6, 2016

It seems that murder has been around for a long time. Researchers at the Centro Mixto UCM-ISCIII de Evolución y Comportamiento Humanos in Spain have investigated the earliest evidence of lethal interpersonal violence in the hominin fossil record with the help of 3D analysis. The interesting findings shed a light on human social relations over 435.000 years ago.

3D analysis on fossils

(A) Frontal view of Cranium 17 showing the position of the traumatic events T1 and T2; (B) Detailed ectocranial view of the traumatic fractures showing the two similar notches (black arrows) present along the superior border of the fracture outlines; (C) Detail of the notch in T1 under 2X magnification with a light microscope. (D) Endocranial view of T1 and T2 showing the large cortical delamination of the inner table (black arrows).

Analyzing Fossils with 3D Technology

A cranium, reconstructed from about 50 fragments, was recovered from the Middle Pleistocene site Sima de los Huesos (Pit of the Bones). The finding shows clear perimortem depression fractures, indicating a double blunt force trauma.

The researchers examined thorougly and in detail the trauma using 3D analysis. To this end, the team CT scanned the skull in the coronal plane. The resulting 1,108 slices were converted into a virtual 3D model of the cranium and its injuries using the Mimics Innovation Suite software. As a result, the investigating team was able to measure the fracture angle and cortical delamination on the virtual reconstructions. Moreover, they analyzed the shape and contours of the lesions and estimated the impact trajectories for each fracture.

Murder Investigation with Mimics

Murder Investigation with Mimics

A combination of factors suggest that the murderer inflicted the wounds using the same object in a face-to-face interpersonal conflict. First of all, both fractures were very similar in shape, size and type of injury. Moreover, the location was the same; the frontal bone. The existence of multiple blows implies an intention to kill, indicating that murder is an ancient human behavior. Finally, the presence of twenty eight individuals on the site, indicates intentional disposal of the dead.

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