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Christopher J. Knüsel, Adrien Thibeault, Sébastien Villotte, “A cranial injury from the earliest Gravettian at the Cro-Magnon rock shelter (Vézère Valley, Dordogne, southwest France)”

Journal of Human Evolution 177 (2023) 103329

Available online 2 March 2023

A new study of the cranium of the specimen named Cro-Magnon 2 shows that the impact present at the level of the frontal of this individual is the result of an ante-mortem wound. The remains of the individuals nicknamed “Cro-Magnon men” were discovered in 1868 at Eyzies-de-Tailhac in Dordogne (France) at the Cro-Magnon shelter.

It is besides the name of this shelter which will give the nickname “Cro-Magnon” to the discovered fossils. These individuals, which belong to the species Homo sapiens, are dated between 33 000 and 31 000 cal BP. As soon as these remains were discovered, researchers noticed a perforation in the frontal bone of the cranium of the individual named Cro-Magnon 2. Nevertheless, since this discovery, opinions differ as to the ante- or post-mortem nature of this perforation, i.e. whether the impact occurred before the death of the individual or whether it is the result of a degradation of the bone following its burial. Researchers have recently re-studied this cranium in order to evaluate the pathological or non-pathological character of this impact.

To do this, they made both visual observations but also generated scans and 3D images of the fossil using a micro X-ray tomograph. Cranial fractures that occurred before death have different characteristics that can be seen on the bones, such as the shape of the fracture or signs of healing. The study conducted here demonstrates that this perforation of the frontal bone is the result of an impact produced by a blunt object that occurred during the individual’s lifetime.
Traces of intracranial hemorrhage, the presence of a hematoma as well as porous bones indicate that the individual would have survived at least 15 days after this injury. It is impossible to affirm that this one was mortal but it is probable that this individual died of the consequences of this wound as for example of an infection. For the researchers, the position of the injury is consistent with the individual having been attacked and therefore not the result of an accident.

This raises the question of interpersonal violence during the Paleolithic, a question already raised with other fossil remains showing traces of injuries.

Read the full article here

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