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The oldest shark related death on record found in Japan



The paper published last week in The Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports brought light on 3,000 year old murder mystery. It features an original excavation photograph of mutilated skeleton, who died after being attacked by a shark or sharks, according to a new analysis of his injuries. It is a courtesy of Laboratory of Physical Anthropology, Kyoto University.


A young man was fatally attacked by a large shark, presumably a great white or a tiger. The man suffered fatal injuries which led to the loss of a leg, a hand, and both feet. The remains of his body survived 3,000 years to tells the story of this event.

Today he is known as Tsukumo No. 24, one of over 170 skeletons excavated from a shell-mound cemetery of the Jomon people in early Japan.


“The calcium carbonate in the shells helps to protect the skeletons from the relatively acidic soil in Japan”, said the lead author J.Alyssa White, DPhil Candidate in archaeology at the University of Oxford.


The skeleton was found in 1920 and has been examined many times since. Using a variety of technologies, including 3D imaging, CT scans, and, remarkably, GIS (Geographic Information System), software the researchers were able to better understand the lesions and the type of trauma. The skeleton had a brutal 790 traumatic lesions from shark teeth in the form of deep cuts, fractured ribs, bite marks, and puncture wounds.



“Archaeologists have a long history of working with technologies, but this is the first time that GIS has been used to map the human body in 3D” explained John Pouncett, research fellow at Spatial Archaeology at the University of Oxford.


This type of brutal attacks evokes a primal fear among most of us and it is why, even 3,000 years later, we are equally fascinated and horrified. But the researchers are quick to point out that shark attacks are relatively rare and generally aren't a danger to humans, despite terrifying examples like this one. The statistics shows the average number of about 75 shark attacks per year worldwide, where only 6 are fatal.


“On the other hand,”Rick Schulting, professor of scientific and prehistoric archaeology at the University of Oxford said, “it has been estimated that humans are killing 100 million sharks annually...This is unsustainable and will lead to the extinction of a number of shark species, which would be very unfortunate to say the least. We'd like people to reflect on this, and to make space to allow co-existence with these incredible animals.”

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