A 3000-year-old shark attack victim was found

A 3000-year-old shark attack victim was found. The skeleton of the world’s oldest known shark attack victim shows telltale wounds. Courtesy of the Laboratory of Physical Anthropology, Kyoto University / JAW, Kyoto University.

A team of researchers has determined that a person died from a wound from a shark attack 3,000 years ago. The 790 wounds on his remains, including his missing leg and hand, are consistent with this hypothesis. Considering how rare shark attacks are, this discovery is truly remarkable. Trying to learn about the distant past is often difficult.

A 3000-year-old shark

Ancient human remains can sometimes seem puzzling, and trying to determine how they ended up in strange places or why they have such strange things with them in their graves can baffle archaeologists. A confusing case suddenly makes sense.

Sheds light on a small part of human history that would otherwise be lost for centuries. Such a finding is described in a new article published in the Journal of Archaeological Science (a 3000-year-old shark): Reports. Investigate the death of a man who lived in Okayama prefecture in southern Japan more than 3,000 years ago. It is also the first known case of our species running with sharks.

We need a bigger ship

A multi-angle map of lesions and skeletal completeness. The red dots are the bite marks, the orange dots are the overlapping stripes, and the purple dots are the fracture lines. The remains of the unfortunate man, known as Staff 24, were found in the Tsukumo Shale-mound cemetery as part of a larger excavation of the remains of ancient hunter-gatherers (a 3000-year-old shark).

The skeletal remains are incomplete and a closer inspection reveals at least 790 deep bone wounds. They show no signs of being healed, but it appears that they were handed over to them before death.

Great white shark

The researchers were initially surprised by this. After ruling out several possibilities in which the man was attacked with contemporary weapons or a land animal, they came to assume that he was attacked by a shark. Judging from the area, it was probably a tiger shark or a great white shark.

The likely location of the initial bite, the pattern of the bite mark, and the serrated nature of the wounds support the shark attack hypothesis. His missing left arm also corresponds to a shark attack, and the authors speculate that he was amputated when he tried to defend himself.


Investigators believe the man was alive when the attack occurred and died quickly from blood loss and shock. His remains show that his body was quickly recovered by his compatriots and was buried in a typical Jomon period manner.

Using up-to-date techniques, the researchers were able to more accurately determine the remains to date between 1370 and 1010 BC. C. This would make Person 24 a member of the fisher-hunter-gatherer community, possibly explaining why he was in the water in the first place.

Does this change our understanding of history?

In a press release, study co-author Dr. Mark Hudson put the findings in the context of our understanding of ancient Japan and archeology in general: The Neolithic people of JJ mon Japan exploited a variety of marine resources.

This is unclear if Tsukumo 24 was deliberately targeting the shark or if the shark was attracted to blood or other fish bait. Either way, the discovery not only provides a new perspective on ancient Japan, but also a rare example of archaeologists able to reconstruct a dramatic episode in the life of a prehistoric community.

Archaeologists unearth a 3,000-year-old shark attack victim. Marine biologists have long tried to dispel the myth that sharks are fierce predators that attack humans. However, fatal shark attacks do occasionally occur. According to the University of Florida Museum of Natural History, there were 57 unprovoked shark bites worldwide in 2020, 13 of which were fatal. Now, experts have unearthed the skeletal remains of the oldest known victim of a shark attack, Sophie Winget reports for The Independent.

A 3000-year-old shark attack victim

Oxford University researchers Jay Elisa White and Rick Schulting recently unearthed an adult male skeleton known as Tsukumo No. 24 in Tsukumo Cemetery, a prehistoric hunter-gatherer cemetery in Okayama Prefecture, Japan, while hunters Prehistorics discovered violent trauma in the human remains of -collectors, according to a statement.

The victim had approximately 790 traumatic injuries, between incisions, punctures and fractures, with no signs of healing, suggesting that the incident was fatal. The researchers published their findings in the August 2021 issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.


According to the statement, the team used a combination of scientific and forensic methods to determine who caused the injury. By analyzing the skeleton, archaeologists concluded that the man probably died sometime between 1370 BC. C. and 1010 a. C. And that his injuries were mainly concentrated in his arms, legs, chest and abdomen.

The experts used this information and other tests to determine whether a tiger shark or great white shark ambushed their prey more often. The wounds were sustained by metal weapons, but scientists used radiocarbon dating to determine that the attack occurred in Japan at a time when people did not have them, says Ruth Schuster of Haretz.

The team considered other possible attackers, such as crabs, bears and pigs, but the types of injuries in the remains did not fit the requirements, so the researchers ruled them out.

nature and distribution

“Given the injuries, he was clearly the victim of a shark attack,” White and Schulting said in the statement. “The man must have been fishing with his companions at the time, since he had recovered quickly and, depending on the nature and distribution of the tooth marks, the most likely species was the tiger or the white shark. “

As Mindy Weisberger writes for Live Science, tiger sharks and great white sharks live in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea near the burial site. Both species have previously killed humans, although they generally do not attack people unless provoked.

“Many victims of shark attacks in the past may not have been recovered for burial,” Schulting tells Haretz. “But there are two other factors at play. One is that evidence of bone injury caused by sharks may not always be recognized.”

Florida Program

Because archaeological finds from shark attacks are relatively rare, the team decided to consult with George Burgess, director emeritus of the Florida Program for Shark Research. Together, the international team was able to reconstruct the attack using X-ray computed tomography (CT), which allowed experts to view and map the person’s wounds, according to Live Science.

These scans showed that most of the victim’s ribs had been broken and cut and that the chest cavity and abdomen were probably protruding. The injuries were also centered on his left hip and leg, and it is possible that he lost his left arm while trying to protect his body from the attack.

Live Science

Scholars also estimate that game lived in Japan during the Jmon period, about 2,300 to 14,000 years ago, according to Haaretz. People of the Jmon culture probably made their living hunting and fishing, and Tsukumo No. 24 may have died during such a fishing expedition. Before this discovery, the oldest known shark attack victim was approximately 1,000 years younger, according to Live Science.

A 3000-year-old shark
A 3000-year-old shark

Construction workers initially discovered the Tsukumo site in 1860, and the first archaeological excavations took place in 1915. Since then, archaeologists have found more than 170 human remains there. However, only one skeleton had suffered such severe and extensive injuries. Humans have a long shared history with sharks, the scientists write in the study. This is one of the relatively rare cases where humans were on their menu, and not the other way around.

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