February 21, 2024


A researcher searching for evidence of bite marks suggesting prehistoric predators hunted down our ancient relatives has found the oldest record of a butchery and clues to potential cannibalism instead.

Paleoanthropologist Briana Pobiner and team at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History describe nine cut marks on a 1.45-million-year-old tibia from a wise man A relative discovered in northern Kenya in 1970. The exact species of hominin has been debated since its discovery.

Looking at the 3D models made from the fossils, the researchers noted that the cut marks did not correspond to bites from other animals, but instead indicated the use of stone tools, likely to remove the meat attached to the shin.

“The information we have tells us that hominids were probably eating other hominids at least 1.45 million years ago,” Bobina said. “There are many examples on the human evolutionary tree of other species consuming each other for nutrients, but this This fossil shows that relatives of our species were eating each other in order to survive farther into the past than we realize.”

After molds of the cut sites were made, they were converted into 3D scans and compared with 898 other examples of bone damage from trampling, teeth and butchery. Nine of the 11 markings on the bone were thought to be consistent with stone tool damage.

Stone tool cut marks (nos. 1-4 and 7-11) and two dent marks (nos. 5 and 6) based on comparison with 898 known bone surface modifications
Stone tool cut marks (nos. 1-4 and 7-11) and two dent marks (nos. 5 and 6) based on comparison with 898 known bone surface modifications

The other two markings likely came from one of the three species of saber-toothed cats at the time, Bobina said. Because the wounds and bite marks didn’t overlap, the scientists don’t know if the cat caused the death of the shin’s owner, or just performed a cleanup mission later.

Interestingly, while it’s impossible to say with certainty that close relatives, or even the same species, both inflicted the stone damage and then ate the meat, there are some precise indications for meal preparation by ancient humans.

3D models of Marks 7 and 8, identified as cut marks from stone tools
3D models of Marks 7 and 8, identified as cut marks from stone tools

The cut marks were located where the calf muscle might have attached, suggesting whoever used the tool knew what they were doing.

“These cut marks look very similar to what I’ve seen on animal fossils that are being processed for consumption,” Bobina said. “It seems likely that the meat from this leg was eaten, and that it was eaten for nourishment rather than ritual.”

As for the species, the fossil was originally identified as boi australopithecusThen standing person 1990. Now, researchers know nothing about it. And the use of tools didn’t narrow it down.

One thing that is certain, however, is the value of existing fossil collections.The tibia is located Nairobi National Museum.

“By going back into museum collections and revisiting fossils, you can make some really amazing discoveries,” Bobina said. “Not everyone can see everything the first time. It takes a group of scientists to ask different questions and techniques to continually expand our understanding of the world.”

The study was published in the journal scientific report.

source: Smithsonian Institution