Sunday, October 30, 2011

Paleo CSI Shows Earliest Murder Weapon in History

Believe it or not, archaeologists and paleontologists have uncovered the earliest 'murder weapon': a 13.800 years old sharp piece of bone, which researchers believe was used as a spear.

The piece of bone, found in a mastodon rib found in 1970 has stirred controversy ever since it was unearthed. While some believe this hypothesis, some scientists are skeptic that the alleged weapon was actually shaped by humans.

"We're fortunate that the hunter 13,800 years ago was probably trying to get that bone projectile point in between the ribs, probably trying to get at a vital organ," said study researcher Michael Waters, an anthropologist at the Center for the Study of the First Americans at Texas A&M University. "Maybe the mastodon flinched or his thrust was off, and he hit a rib instead and broke his bone projectile point. So it's bad for him, and good for us."

However, oddly enough, when classic methods of investigation fail, forensic sciences come and save the day. Using techniques also common in forensic anthropology, they were able to find not only that humans killed the mastodon, but also how they did it. It wasn't a fair fight – the animal was old and probably sick when it died. Odontologists revealed that the teeth were "quite literally worn down to a nubbin".

In order to test their theories, paleontologists used high-resolution computed tomography (CT) scan. "This is a high-resolution industrial version that creates digital X-rays spaced every 0.06 millimeters [0.002 inches], about half the thickness of a piece of paper."

To top it off, researchers even made some DNA sampling on the bone marrow of the mastodon – to check if the weaponry was made from the same one, or from a different one.

"That was even more exciting, because what that meant is whoever these hunters were that tracked down and killed the Manis Mastodon were hunting with weapons made from a previous kill," Waters said.

Andrei Mihai
ZME Science
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