Ancient Skull May Offer Clues to Oldest Murder

Cranium-17Murder may be as old as humanity itself, but we don’t know much about the nature or origins of violent behavior among early humans. Now, researchers think they may have found a skull evidencing the earliest recorded murder in human history. The skull was found in the Sima de los Huesos—“pit of bones”—cave in northern Spain.

The Earliest Case of Human Murder?

Researchers are unsure how the skulls ended up in the cave, but scientists believe they are about 430,000 years old. This situates them in the middle of the Pleistocene age, a time during which humans evolved into their present incarnation.

In a report published in PLOS ONE, Spanish researchers detail the findings of research on the skull, referred to as Cranium 17 (Cr-17). The skull is almost complete, but contains two fractures just above the left eye.

Scientists used 3D imaging to analyze the shape and trajectory of each wound. They argue that each of the two wounds appears to have been caused by the same object, but that the wound is from at least two blows, not a single one. Based on the position of the fracture, it’s unlikely it was caused by an accidental fall. Because there are multiple blows, it’s similarly unlikely that the wounds were caused by a hunting accident or a self-inflicted wound. Burial rituals and cannibalism are also unlikely. Instead, it’s most likely that the wounds came from another person. Their severity suggests the victim could not have survived, making the skull the earliest fossilized evidence of a murder.

The presence of an apparent murder victim in the cave helps shed light on why the other skulls are there, too, researchers say. Because the person likely died before ending up in the cave, it’s likely that the cave was used as a burial location. This suggests that, as early as the Middle Pleistocene, humans engaged in burial and funeral rituals.


  1. 430,000-year-old skull fractures may represent earliest case of murder in humans. (2015, May 28). Retrieved from
  2. Sala N, Arsuaga JL, Pantoja-Pérez A, Pablos A, Martínez I, et al. (2015) Lethal Interpersonal Violence in the Middle Pleistocene. PLoS ONE 10(5): e0126589.doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0126589

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  • Rebekah


    June 4th, 2015 at 10:44 AM

    I guess that there is enough evidence available to point out that this probably wasn’t from an accident- so cool!

  • Gerard


    June 4th, 2015 at 4:28 PM

    We tend to think of these as such new problems, but it seems that this is something that has been rampant among the human race for as long as they have been around.

  • Arla


    June 8th, 2015 at 4:12 PM

    As a self proclaimed history and archaeology geek, this is something that I find so interesting! I would love to be able to go on a dig one day and help discover a part of our own communal history!

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