Spoiler Alert–It Was Murder

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This human skull, found in a Romanian cave in 1941, is estimated to be about 33,000 years old. As you can notice from the picture, there are several cracks and fractures in the skull, which led researchers to wonder how they got there.

Cioclovina Man Skull
Cioclovina Man Skull

Were the fractures the result of some natural process, such as a cave in? Could the miners who found the skull have inadvertently caused the damage through explosives or mishandling? Or do the fractures tell a more sinister tale of murder?

And the answer is probably the latter.

“The distinctive [circular] depressed fracture found on the right side of the skull is unquestionably evidence that the person was struck with a blunt object, which directly implies a human agent,” says Kranioti.

Fragments of bone flecked backwards into the skull, indicating Cioclovina man was facing his attacker head-on. This is further evidence against the theory that he was killed from falling cave roof debris, the authors say.

The team then experimentally recreated the blow using artificial skulls filled with ballistic gelatin. They tested several scenarios, including falls, blows with a rock, and blows with a baseball bat to different locations. The fracture patterns found on Cioclovina man’s skull strongly resembled what happened when the artificial skulls were hit twice with a round, club-like object while against the ground.

“The linear fracture happened first and could have been either a result of a person falling from their own height – while running from someone, for example – or a result of a strike while kneeling or being on the ground,” says Kranioti.

The second fracture is clearly a result of violence, she says.

“Which means that, in modern terms, if I had to define the cause and matter of death as a forensic pathologist I would say that the person died of craniocerebral injuries (as the brain would also have been damaged from the blows) and that it was homicide.”

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