Bones of an ancient human relative show signs of butchery and cannibalism

Using a magnifying glass to look for signs that an animal might have bitten or chewed on a 1.5-million-year-old bone of a human relative, a paleontologist discovered something completely unexpected: cut marks made by a stone tool.

Markings on a fossilized half-jaw bone discovered in 1970 in northern Kenya appear to be the oldest evidence of one hominin killing another. The discovery raises the compelling, somewhat creepy possibility that the remains were cannibalized, according to a study published in the journal Monday. Scientific reports.

Brianna Bobiner, lead author of the study and a paleoanthropologist at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, said. She recalls approaching others at the National Museums of Kenya in Nairobi, where she said what she had discovered, “Come here. Come and see this. Am I crazy?”

To confirm that the cut marks were the result of cannibalism, Popiner said, “You have to know who’s eating and who’s being eaten, and we don’t know anything about this.” Cannibalism requires both the consumer and the consumed to be of the same species.

About 1.5 million years ago, there were at least three types of hominins in the area where the fossil was found: standing man, A comfortable man And Paranthropus poisei. Popiner said experts will need more of a skeleton than a single bone to determine the species in question.

Cannibalism is not uncommon in the animal kingdom. more than 1,300 animals Species eat their own kind, including some primates. is initial Evidence of cannibalism One of the hominins dates back 800,000 years and was discovered at the Ataburca archaeological site in northern Spain.

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Close practice receives A wise manThe questions it raises are very complex and uncomfortable.

“This behavior connects us to our animal nature and reminds us that we are one of the millions of species that have existed throughout evolution,” said Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo, a postdoctoral researcher at the Catalan Institute of Human Paleontology and Social Evolution. was not involved in the study, but was a participant in a recent workshop on prehistoric cannibalism “Feast or Famine.”

“On a more unsettling note,” he continued in an email, “there is cannibalism A wise man has deep philosophical implications. It raises questions about love and hate, family and enemy, war cannibals and mortuary cannibals, and feast and famine.

The fossilized bone examined by Bobiner was found by renowned British paleoanthropologist Mary Leakey, but at the time the markings were not cited as possible signs of butchery. They were not mentioned by subsequent researchers who studied the left tibia in the last half century.

Bobiner believes the researchers who examined the bone missed the marks because they weren’t looking for signs of butchery. In recent years, it has become more common to re-examine previously discovered fossils, he said.

The bone is one of 199 In July 2017, Bobiner examined fossils of a hominin, 1.5 to 2 million years old, but only in them did he find cut marks. The marks were the same color as the rest of the bone, indicating they were made before the bone fossilized, he said.

Although Pobiner found the marks with a simple hand-held magnifying glass, they were later analyzed using more complex technology. He took a long impression of the bone using the type used by clay dentists to take impressions of teeth and check bite marks when installing crowns.

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She sent the impression to one of her co-authors on the study, Michael Pandey of Colorado State University, without telling him what it was taken from. Over the course of several months, Ponte used sensing to create 3D computer models of the marks, which range from 1 to 5 millimeters in length. The samples were compared to a database of 898 individual tooth, butcher and tread marks generated through controlled trials.

Pante determined that 9 out of 11 was the cutoff score; The other two, tooth marks, may have been made by animals such as lions.

“Unfortunately, identifying tool type or material from a cut mark is difficult and prone to error,” Pante said via email, “so we chose not to include this comparison.” He said more research is needed before reliably linking the scores to a specific type of instrument.

No stone tools were found with the bone, although Bobiner said tools have been found at various excavation sites, including one 15 miles away.

Because the cut marks and tooth marks don’t match up, the story of exactly what happened is unclear. Was the hominin’s scavenging left over from an individual first killed by a lion, or did the hominin make its initial kill and did the scavenging by the lion?

“Scavenging the remains of a big cat like a lion seems a bit unusual [hominin] Its deep muscles have already been exploited,” Rodriguez-Hidalgo said. “What would be left for the cats to scavenge? Only the marrow, but big cats aren’t known for their bone-breaking abilities, and the tibia is intact. So, this scenario doesn’t seem very plausible.

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Only one of the 199 fossil bones Bobiner examined had cut marks, suggesting to him that hominins from this period were unlikely to have consumed each other as a regular part of their diet. Eating other hominins may have replaced the lack of other food. By 1.5 million years ago the hominin’s diet included antelopes, zebras, rhinoceroses, hippos — “anything you could get your hands on,” as Bobiner likes to say.

James Cole, Principal Lecturer in Archeology at the University of Brighton in England, called the new research. A “very interesting and exciting discovery”, it demonstrates the value of returning to fossil collections housed in museums.

“Some great discoveries have already been made, but not yet fully recognized,” Cole said. “The evidence here shows that we are a long way from our understanding of our hominin ancestors and the complex and fascinating lives they led.”

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