Archaeology news: Researchers piece together violent death of oldest shark attack victim


Researchers from the University of Oxford were investigating evidence of violent trauma on ancient skeletons at Kyoto University, in Japan. Using a combination of archaeological science and forensic techniques, the researchers were able to put together the final few moments of the man who died after being attacked by a shark in the Seto Inland Sea of the Japanese archipelago.

After analysing a series of skeletons that had been buried in the community burial ground called the Tsukumo Shell-mound cemetery site, the scientists came across one interesting specimen.

The man, who has been dubbed subject Number 24, was found to have almost 800 serrated injuries across his body.

According to the study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, the injuries were consistent with a shark bite.

Oxford researchers Alyssa White and Professor Rick Schulting said: “We were initially flummoxed by what could have caused at least 790 deep, serrated injuries to this man.

“There were so many injuries and yet he was buried in the community burial ground, the Tsukumo Shell-mound cemetery site.

“The injuries were mainly confined to the arms, legs, and front of the chest and abdomen.

“Through a process of elimination, we ruled out human conflict and more commonly-reported animal predators or scavengers.”

Archaeological evidence of shark attacks is extremely rare.

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As such, the researchers turned to George Burgess, Director Emeritus of the Florida Program for Shark Research.

Mr Burgess was then able to put together the history of the man who died.

The team concluded that the individual died between 1370 to 1010 BC.

The injuries would also suggest that the man was alive at the time, with his hand torn off – most likely a defence wound.

He was also missing his right leg while his left leg had been taken by the shark, but recovered and buried along with the individual.

Number 24’s body was recovered soon after the attack and subsequently buried in the community ground.

The researchers said: “Given the injuries, he was clearly the victim of a shark attack.

“The man may well have been fishing with companions at the time, since he was recovered quickly.

“And, based on the character and distribution of the tooth marks, the most likely species responsible was either a tiger or white shark.”

Co-author Dr Mark Hudson, a researcher with the Max Planck Institute, added: “The Neolithic people of Jomon Japan exploited a range of marine resources… It’s not clear if Tsukumo 24 was deliberately targeting sharks or if the shark was attracted by blood or bait from other fish.

“Either way, this find not only provides a new perspective on ancient Japan, but is also a rare example of archaeologists being able to reconstruct a dramatic episode in the life of a prehistoric community.”

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