Jaws BC

World’s oldest-known shark victim discovered in Japan.

Shark stories abound, as attacks on surfers and swimmers in Australia, California, and elsewhere, hit the headlines. But such assaults go back far into the past, witness the recent discovery from southeastern Japan. Japan’s Jomon culture was one of the most sophisticated, long-lasting fishing societies on earth. Its roots lie at the end of the Ice Age, if not earlier. Sharks were a favoured prey. Many Jomon folk spent most of their lives on, or in, shallower waters, where sharks sometimes came inshore to feed. A village cemetery of about 3,000 years ago near the Seto Inland Sea in the southeast yielded a partial human skeleton in excavations about a century ago. Recent laboratory work on the cemetery skeletons by an Oxford University team headed by archaeologist Alyssa White has identified a man killed by a shark. His injuries were horrendous.

No fewer than 790 gouges, punctures, and other forms of bite damage lie on the victim’s arms, legs, pelvis and ribs. The researchers developed a 3-D model of the injuries, who showed that he lost his left hand trying to fend off his attacker. He resisted in vain. His attacker opened major leg arteries, which caused him to bleed to death in short order. The dead man’s fishing companions brought the body ashore except for the severed left hand. They then buried him in the cemetery, his ravaged left leg having been detached and laid on his chest.

The Seto discovery is the oldest known shark victim yet discovered, perhaps attacked when the fishers released blood into the water to attract potential prey. This scenario is plausible because sharks rarely attack humans without provocation.

Image: a white shark – one of the likely species to have made the attack.

Credit: K. Bondy