The remains of a man who was attacked by a shark more than 3,000 years ago have now been discovered by scientists.
The adult man, who is identified as “No 24,” had at least 790 deep, serrated injuries. He also lost his left hand when it was bitten off, and he was probably alive for most of the attack, a team of international experts believe.
No 24’s body is the earliest direct evidence of a shark attack on a human, according to a research paper in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.
The team of scientists used archaeological science along with forensic techniques to find out more about the attack that took place in the Seto Inland Sea of the Japanese archipelago sometime between 1370 to 1010 BC.
Oxford University researchers J Alyssa White and Professor Rick Schulting were searching for evidence of violent trauma on the skeletal remains of prehistoric hunter-gatherers at Kyoto University when they came across the shark attack victim.
The Oxford researchers said in a statement, “We were initially flummoxed by what could have caused at least 790 deep, serrated injuries to this man. There were so many injuries and yet he was buried in the community burial ground, the Tsukumo Shell-mound cemetery site.”
“The injuries were mainly confined to the arms, legs, and front of the chest and abdomen,” they added.
“Through a process of elimination, we ruled out human conflict and more commonly-reported animal predators or scavengers,” the researchers said.
Since archaeological cases of shark reports are extremely rare, they turned to forensic shark attack cases for clues and worked with expert George Burgess, director emeritus of the Florida Program for Shark Research.
The team built a reconstruction of the attack. By looking at the distribution of the man’s wounds, the researchers concluded that he was alive at the time of the attack.
Excavation records show that his right leg was missing and his left leg was placed on top of his body in an inverted position.
“Given the injuries, he was clearly the victim of a shark attack. The man may well have been fishing with companions at the time, since he was recovered quickly. And, based on the character and distribution of the tooth marks, the most likely species responsible was either a tiger or white shark,” the researchers said.
Dr. Mark Hudson, who co-authored the paper, said that it is not clear if the victim was deliberately looking for sharks or if the animal was attracted by blood or bait from other fish.
“Either way, this find not only provides a new perspective on ancient Japan, but is also a rare example of archaeologists being able to reconstruct a dramatic episode in the life of a prehistoric community,” he said.