Ancient Skull Likely Belonged To The World’s Oldest Tsunami Victim

Posted: Oct 27 2017, 11:20am CDT | by , Updated: Oct 27 2017, 11:33am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
Ancient Skull Likely Belonged to the World’s Oldest Tsunami Victim
Credit: Arthur Durband, Kansas State University.

A mysterious partial skull found in Papua New Guinea represents the earliest known remains of a tsunami victim

A 6000-year old skull found in Papua New Guinea may have belonged to the oldest known victim of Tsunami, a new study finds.

The mysterious Aitape skull was discovered in 1929 by Australian geologist Paul Hossfeld, but its true identity remained a mystery until now. Originally researchers thought that the skull was of a Homo erectus, a prehistoric species of humans from Africa. But new research suggests that the skull dates back to the mid-Holocene period, about 6,000 years ago.

In the latest effort, researchers revisited the place the skull was found, collected soil samples and applied scientific methods to identify the exact era it belonged to.

“We don't know exactly where Hossfeld found the skull, but I think we were within 100 meters of the original location based on his description. We were able to use modern scientific techniques to understand a little more about how this place formed and what we were actually looking at.” Mark Golitko who examined the Aitape skull and its whereabouts said in a statement.

By analyzing diatoms or small single-cell organisms within the sediments, researchers were able to understand and reconstruct the water conditions in the region at the time.

“Diatoms make little silica shells around themselves and when they die, those sink to the bottom,” said Golitko. “So we put the sediment under a microscope and counted those diatoms and it more or less tells you about the temperature, salinity and how energetic the water was that they were living in.”

The analysis indicated the presence of a tsunami at the time the skull was buried. There is also a possibility that the skull was already buried before it was swept by Tsunami. But based on observations of modern tsunamis, researchers have ruled out the possibility that the skull could have belonged to a person who died of something other than a tsunami.

“Tsunamis do not rip up the ground enough to remove already buried bodies and put them into suspension and transport them. Overwhelmingly, the dead you find were killed by the tsunami.” Co-researcher Ethan Cochrane, an archaeologist at the University of Auckland in New Zealand said.

The new research possibly unlocks a mystery that has baffled scientists for years. However, many questions still need to be addressed.

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