Is this the oldest case of cannibalism? Cuts made from a bone of a mysterious human relative 1.5 million years ago reveal they were butchered and likely eaten by one of them
Cuts on a bone from a mysterious human relative suggest they were slaughtered 1.5 million years ago and likely eaten by one of them, revealing the oldest evidence of cannibalism.
Researchers at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History found the markings on the left tibia of a relative of Homo sapiens who lived in what is now Kenya.
About nine of the 11 cuts match the type inflicted by stone tools, while a now-extinct saber-toothed animal was responsible for the others.
The project’s lead researcher, Briana Pobiner, said the lacerations don’t prove the human relative who performed the slaughter also ate the leg, but it seems the likely scenario.
Scientists reanalyzed the tibia and found markings made from stone tools
The bone was discovered in 1970 by paleoanthropologist Mary Leakey and has since been housed in the National Museums of Kenya Nairobi Museum.
Pobiner recently took another look at the tibia looking for animal bites, but found markings that look like cross stitches instead.
“The information we have tells us that hominins probably ate other hominids at least 1.45 million years ago,” Pobiner said. in a statement.
“There are plenty of other examples of species from the human evolutionary tree consuming each other for food, but this fossil suggests that our species’ relatives ate each other to survive further into the past than we thought.”
Most of the bone surface modifications found are short, narrow linear marks with a straight trajectory and a closed V-shaped cross-section oriented in the same direction.
“The cutting marks are also all oriented the same way, so that a hand wielding a stone tool could have made them all in succession without changing the grip or adjusting the angle of attack,” researchers shared in a press release.
And the cuts all gathered in the same area on the bone, according to the study published in Nature.
None of the stone tool cut marks overlap with the two bite marks, making it difficult to deduce anything about the sequence of events that occurred.
The project’s lead researcher, Briana Pobiner, said the lacerations don’t prove the human relative who performed the slaughter also ate the leg, but it seems the likely scenario
About nine of the 11 cuts match the type inflicted by stone tools, while a now-extinct saber-toothed animal was responsible for the others
For example, a big cat may have scavenged the remains after hominins removed most of the flesh from the leg bone.
It’s equally possible that a big cat killed a hapless humanoid and was chased or chased away before opportunistic humanoids took over the prey.
“These cut marks are very similar to what I’ve seen on those that were processed for consumption,” Pobiner said.
“It seems very likely that the flesh of this leg was eaten and that it was eaten for sustenance rather than for ritual.
“So this fossil could be a trace of prehistoric cannibalism, but it’s also possible that one species was eating its evolutionary cousin.”
Scientists have found evidence that at least three hominin species existed 1.5 million years ago in the region where the fossil was found: Homo erectus, Homo habilis, and Paranthropus boisei.
Pobiner told The Washington Post she’s not sure where the mystery victim falls into place, but is investigating further.
She examined 199 fossilized bones in the collection, and the tibia is the only one with butcher marks, suggesting that cannibalism was not a widespread practice.
However, the discovery suggests that there may have been a food shortage at some point, forcing the ancient humans to consume whatever they could to survive.