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26 November 2011
Bashed skull earliest evidence of human aggression?

A healed fracture discovered on an ancient skull from China may be the oldest documented evidence of violence between humans. The individual, who lived 150,000-200,000 years ago, suffered blunt force trauma to the right temple - possibly from being hit with a projectile. But the ancient hunter-gatherer survived: the injury was completely healed by the time of death. The skull was unearthed at a cave near Maba, southern China, in 1958.
     Professor Trinkaus, who was part of an international team that re-examined the specimen, said the depressed fracture in the right temple region was the result of an impact that was "very directed, very localised. Can we completely rule out a hunting accident? No. But it's less likely to be that than getting hit on the side of the head with a missile."
     Yet the Maba individual survived weeks or months after the injury. "It's another individual in a growing number of human fossils going back in excess of a million years who show long-term survival with serious injuries and congenital problems - a variety of things along these lines. We have many instances of trauma - some serious, some minor. We also have a surprisingly high incidence of conditions that occur in the modern world but are extremely rare. So the probability of finding them in our meagre fossil record is extremely low."
     Researchers believe such evidence points to the existence of care and support networks within ancient human groups. The Maba individual was not a modern human; it belonged to a poorly defined population of so-called 'archaic' people living in East Asia at the time the Neanderthals dominated Europe. Trinkaus thinks the Neanderthals were the western representatives of this continuum, with Maba and other specimens representing an eastern physical form.

Edited from BBC News, Popular Archaeology (21 November 2011), National Geographic News (22 November 2011)

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