Ice Age Murder Mystery

Deep in a Romanian cave laid buried a skull for over thirty thousand years….. this skull held testament to a brutal, vicious murder that occurred over 30 thousand years ago. Who this skull belonged to we don’t know, too much time has passed. We don’t even know the context he was buried in….. only that he was murdered, brutally by a left-handed foe. He lived in a pivotal moment in human history, he belonged to a people whom were the first modern humans to settle the European continent, the Aurignacian folk.

His people created works of art that remain unrivaled to this day: flutes, sculptures, paintings….. They were reindeer hunters, first and foremost, dark skinned with brown hair, they were not light skinned like their distant white descendants. It was a time of immense beauty, but also of horrifying weather unlike anything anyone alive in the modern day has seen (at least for now), glaciers covered huge expanses of the globe, and polar bears roamed off the coast of what is now Portugal.

This man’s skull holds testament to the first homicide recorded in the archaeological record. What truly happened on that fateful day over 30 thousand years ago we’ll never know for sure, hell, because his skull was unearthed in the 50’s modern archaeological techniques had yet to be invented, so we lack key context about the site his skull was unearthed from.

We only have his skull, and even the fractures on his skull are enough to tell us even things about his attacker. His attacker was left handed, and was face to face with their victim when they struck him down, with a sort of bat or club as the murder weapon.

I’d venture to say this was a personal dispute amongst people who knew each other intimately… Hunter-gatherer bands are small, comprised primarily of close relatives, everyone in the band is related to each other in some way…. Whatever happened on that fateful day, it was bad enough to cause his attacker to strike down a close friend or relative of his.

His skull is a testament to the inner cruelty of man, an attacker desperate enough to strike down a loved one or close friend, and given how the man was face to face with his attacker when he was struck down, it was evidently some form of confrontation. Unfortunately what truly happened on that day, what caused a person to go far enough and murder a close relation of theirs, will forever remain unknown.

References:

“State of the art forensic techniques reveal evidence of interpersonal violence circa 30,000 years ago” Kranioti et al (2019) Plos One (https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0216718)

 

Neanderthal extinction revised

https://www.sciencealert.com/how-a-perfect-storm-of-sex-and-population-size-may-have-sealed-the-neanderthals-fate

Instead they were wiped out by demographic factors, namely small population size and inbreeding. Modern humans helped out by essentially serving as a sort of “sexual distraction,” so then when Neanderthals mated with modern humans the gene flow went to modern human populations rather than Neanderthal populations, ie we swamped them and assimilated them with little conflict involved, and thereby accelerated a process that would’ve eventually killed them all of anyways.

The Roots of Humanity

I propose that Australopithecus is to be more accurately considered a chronogenus, similar to how Homo erectus is considered a chronospecies. I mean, Australopithecus already is paraphyletic because it excludes Homo, its descendant genus, and there are human species that display many primitive, australopithecine traits, and many australopithecine species that feature advanced, human traits. So much so in fact that the line between “human” and “protohuman” has been increasingly blurred over the years, to the point we’re having debates over whether something like H. habilis is truly a human or rather an australopithecine proto-human instead.

We know that stone tools were already in use by 3.3 Ma, and that we were already losing our body hair by 3.2 Ma (which surprise surprise indicates persistence hunting), and that australopithecine social structures would’ve been more similar to modern humans than chimps (australopithecines gave birth the hard, human way, rather than the easy chimp way), including that the males took part in raising the young, and that australopithecine couples were at the very least serially monogamous. We don’t know how complex they were, or how much more similar to modern human socials structures they were than to chimps, since so much time has passed between then and now, but we know at the very least the beginnings of everything thought of as “human,” from bipedality to marriage to technology (rather than simple tool use), had its roots in the australopithecines.

Of course, that’s not to mention the extremely early migrations out of Africa that lead to the H. floresiensis lineage, since recent phylogenetic analyses indicates the Hobbits of Flores were even more basal than H. habilis was, and the findings of stone tools in China dated to over two million years ago, and how the primitive species H. naledi was found to have lived as recently as 200kya, we now know the story of human evolution is a *lot* more complex than we once thought, indeed it’s apt, if somewhat crude, to call it what it is: a *clusterfuck*.

Cemetery 117

On the shores of ancient Lake Turkana we find a hidden trove of all too human horrors, a trove of broken bones and unburied bodies, a testament to the inner cruelty of man. 59 victims were found, murdered and mutilated, their bodies left unburied. Only the tide would tend to their funerary needs, forever preserving this senseless, and ancient, act of wanton cruelty.

Thirteen thousand years ago an entire community was massacred, their hands and feet bound together as their skulls were smashed in, their scalps sliced off, and their tongues ripped out. All ages were among the victims, from the elderly to children. Among the dead was a woman in late pregnancy.

These people were not farmers, as it had been long presumed the horrors of war only started with the advent of agriculture. No, these people lived before the dawn of farming, but the world they lived in was changing. The ice sheets were melting, causing global chaos as what had been the norm for tens of thousands of years came to a grinding halt.

Lake Turkana was a paradise in this time, lush, wet, and green, filled with all sorts of wildlife like elephants, hippos, and crocodiles as far as the eye could see. This primordial Garden of Eden would seem like the last place one would expect to find the grisly atrocities of war, but alas, appearances can be deceiving.

What truly happened on that fateful day thirteen thousand years ago may never truly be known, but these broken bodies lay witness to the fact that war, war never changes.

The invention of fire

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4874402/

The above is a useful overview of what we know about the first invention of fire by early humans and its effects on mankind’s evolution. The earliest definitive use for fire use is around a million and a half years old, but phylogenetic analysis puts the invention of fire further back to around two million years ago, this is corroborated by the anatomical characteristics of species like Homo erectus, with reduced jaws and teeth that in some cases were the size of the teeth of modern people, as well as more reduced musculature compared to the non-human great apes and a far bigger brain in relation to body size than australopithecines, our ancestors, and great apes, with cranial capacity reaching up to 1100 cm.

The earliest evidence for habitual fire use dates to around 500,000 years ago, and we have indirect evidence that we were making glue from around this time too, see the article for more details on that. There’s some evidence both Neanderthals and early modern humans practiced fire stick farming from at least 120,000 years ago, and there’s evidence of leather working from around this time, for those who don’t know leather requires fire to make, and there’s also evidence for hand drills from around 400,000 years ago as well, instead of simply using the friction from rubbing two sticks together in an hearth on top of some kindling to ignite a fire, which is presumably the first method we devised for actually making fire.

We likely had the ability to control fire before we invented methods to ignite it, this would require knowledge of slow-burning materials to maintain fires for long periods of time, animal dung does the trick.

What Denisovans looked like

Scientists recently utilized genetic evidence to reconstruct what Denisovans looked like, and the results are astonishing. For one they would’ve had wider skulls than both neanderthals and modern humans, as well as having a longer dental arch. It brings these ancient humans to life in a way that mere bones never could, and it’s humbling to think that these people were among our ancestors, because they were.

Reconstruction available here