Prehistoric Hunter-Gatherer Was Ripped Apart by a Shark

Researchers: Earliest known evidence of shark attack on a person identified in Japan
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 24, 2021 10:05 AM CDT
Prehistoric Hunter-Gatherer Was Ripped Apart by a Shark
This image shows how the remains of the man were initially discovered at the Tsukumo Shell-mound cemetery site in Japan.   (Laboratory of Physical Anthropology, Kyoto University)

Three millennia ago, a hunter-gatherer ventured to Japan's inland sea in search of a meal. He then became one himself. Researchers believe this Neolithic man, found buried in the Tsukumo Shell-mound cemetery site near the Seto Inland Sea, is the earliest known victim of a shark attack on a human, which predates the next earliest known attack by some 2,000 years, per CNN. Oxford University researchers J. Alyssa White and Rick Schulting were at Kyoto University examining violent trauma in skeletal remains when they noticed an adult male in extremely rough shape, with "at least 790 deep, serrated injuries" to his arms, legs, chest, and abdomen, according to a release for a study published Wednesday in Journal of Archeological Science: Reports. Additionally, his left hand had been torn off, his right leg was missing, and his left leg had been placed on top of his body.

Researchers came to suspect a shark attack—a rare find in archaeology—after ruling out human conflict and other animal predators or scavengers, per a release. After turning to George Burgess, director emeritus of the Florida Program for Shark Research, for help studying forensic shark-attack cases, they determined the man likely died between 1370BC and 1010BC when he was attacked by a tiger shark or white shark. Schulting tells CNN the man may have been diving for shellfish or fishing from a boat with companions, who were able to recover his body. "Perhaps they were even hunting sharks," he says, noting shark teeth have been found at sites from the era. Researchers believe the man was alive initially and may have lost his left hand while defending himself, per CNET. The next earliest evidence of a shark attack on a person, in Puerto Rico, dates to AD1000. (More discoveries stories.)

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