Skull found in Papua New Guinea ′world′s oldest tsunami victim′ | News | DW | 26.10.2017
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Archaeology

Skull found in Papua New Guinea 'world's oldest tsunami victim'

A human skull found in Papua New Guinea in 1929 came from someone killed in a tsunami some 6,000 years ago, experts say. The conclusion comes after examination of the sediments where the skull was buried.

A 6,000-year-old skull discovered near the coast of Papua New Guinea some 90 years ago is likely to be that of the first person known to have died in a tsunami, experts said on Thursday.

The experts base their conclusions on a new analysis of the area in which the skull was found, where the sediment displayed characteristics typically discovered after a tsunami has hit.

The partial skull, known as the Aitape Skull, was discovered in 1929 by Australian geologist Paul Hossfeld 12 kilometers (seven miles) inland from Papua New Guinea's northern coast. It was originally considered to be at least 140,000 years old, but more recent carbon dating has suggested it is closer to 6,000 years old, making it a member of our own species — homo sapiens.

Tsunamis a 'significant influence' throughout history

An international team led by the University of New South Wales in Australia discovered that a tsunami probably hit the site of the find around the time the person was alive.

"We have discovered that the place where the Aitape Skull was unearthed was a coastal lagoon that was inundated by a large tsunami about 6,000 years ago," said study author James Goff, a scientist at the university.

Indonesia aftermath of 2005 tsunami (Getty Images/P.M. Bonafede/U.S. Navy)

Tsunamis in the region have caused death and destruction through the ages

"It was similar to the one that struck nearby with such devastating effect in 1998, killing more than 2,000 people," he said, adding: "We conclude that this person who died there so long ago is probably the oldest-known tsunami victim in the world."

He said the individual was probably either killed directly by the tsunami, or buried shortly before it hit.

The researchers said it was possible that the skull was found on its own, without any other bones, because crocodiles had eaten the body, as occurred with tsunami victims following the 1998 tsunami in the same area.

The study said research had shown that tsunamis had hit repeatedly in the Pacific region throughout history and prehistory, causing death, abandonment of settlements, disruption to trade and even conflict.

Japan remembers victims of devastating tsunami, six years on


tj/ng (dpa, Reuters)

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