Life In LC

Aitape Skull

Like The TV Show “Bones” But For Real.

in Columns/Firehose/Headline Feed/Latest/Rotator/Weather or Not by

Scientists have been studying the bones of our predecessors for a very long time and have learned a lot about how our ancestors lived and died. There is a specialty field in which those bones are collected and studied. Forensic Anthropology is that specialty that was the main basis for the “Bones” series.

“Bones” TV Series | Image by
Kathy Reichs
Kathy Reichs, Author | image by

The original idea for the show came from the mind of best selling author Kathy Reichs on whom the character Tempe Brennan is based. My reason for explaining this relates to a recent discovery that may have serious repercussions in the fields of anthropology, geology and other disciplines. The anthropologists study the bones while the geologists study the location in which it was found.

Aitape Skull
Aitape Skull | Image by Arthur Durband, Kansas State University

The original discovery goes back to 1929 when Australian geologist Paul Hossfeld discovered the partial human skull in Papua New Guinea, specifically in a mangrove outside the coastal town of Aitape. The skull has been revealed to be from 6,000 years ago in the mid-Holocene period. What makes this skull significant is that new research indicates this person could be the world’s oldest tsunami victim.

Aitape Map
Aitape Map | Image by

In a research article published October 15,2017 in PLOS|one, which publishes research papers,  the team of James Goff, Mark Golitko, Ethan Cochrane, Darren Cumoe, Shaun Williams, and John Terrell put forth the results of their research. From their abstract “There is increasing recognition of the long-lasting effects of tsunamis on human populations. This is particularly notable along tectonically active coastlines with repeated inundations occurring over thousands of years. Given the often high death tolls reported from historical events though it is remarkable that so few human skeletal remains have been found in the numerous palaeotsunami deposits studied to date.”

1998 Aitape Tsunami
1998 Aitape Tsunami | Photo by

They referred to the 1929 discovery of the 6,000 year old skull by relating the fact that the skull was first mistakenly dated incorrectly. It took the more modern use of radiocarbon dating. Their paper went on to explain that the attention was paid to the skull and not as much the location, the coastal mangrove swamp where it was found.  “With the benefit of knowledge gained from studies of the 1998 tsunami in that same area, we conclude that the skull was laid down in a tsunami deposit and as such may represent the oldest known tsunami victim in the world. These findings raise the question whether other coastal archaeological sites with human skeletal remains would benefit from a re-assessment of their geological content.” In simpler terms, they need to see if previously studied sites where skeletal remains were found could have also been involved in the action of a tsunami.

Aitape Tsunami Sand Layer
Aitape Tsunami Sand Layer | Image by

Quoting an interview published October 15th in quoting Mark Golitko again about the location near where the skull was found “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.” Their team performed tests on the sediment there studying the chemistry and sediment size. Quoting the article “The found diatoms, small single-celled organisms that live in water and are sensitive environmental  locators, and used those to learn more about the water conditions at the time.” These sediments that the Aitape skull were in have pure marine diatoms in them, which is ocean water that’s inundating it. It’s really high-energy ocean water – high energy enough for these tiny specs of silica that the diatoms build to be broken as they’re washing in.”

What that really means is that the ocean water was forced over the land mass that normally would hold only fresh water. That’s how they determined that a tsunami was responsible for the death of the person whose skull has been discussed. There is even more historical evidence of tsunami action in the area as you might remember the great tsunami in 1998 that killed more than 2000 people.

I can this sum up very simply. They have enough evidence to say that the person who belonged to that skull was most likely killed during a tsunami and that researchers should check out other locations over the world where previously unknown tsunami activity may have been responsible for the deaths of more people than ever imagined.

Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at:

Latest from Columns

Go to Top