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The role of traumatic mortality in late human evolution from an integrated non-invasive bioarchaeological and taphonomic perspective

Project description

Studying the prehistoric massacre at Lake Turkana

Approximately 16 000 people from around the world die each day from traumatic injury. Road traffic collisions, murder and suicide are the leading causes of traumatic death and injury. Was this always the case? the EU-funded TRAUMOBITA project will study how traumatic mortality among prehistoric humans shaped our behaviour during the Late Pleistocene to the Middle Holocene. Understanding how humans died is critical for specifying the role violence played in forming our behaviour. The project will study human fossils from Lake Turkana in Kenya. This is where a group of hunter-gatherers attacked one another some 10 000 years ago. The findings will enable the identification and characterisation of traumatic death and provide insight into human behavioural adaptations.


Traumatic death affects our daily life, but how did traumatic mortality affect human behaviour from an evolutionary perspective? TRAUMOBITA aims to understand how traumatic mortality among prehistoric humans shaped our behaviour during the Late Pleistocene to the Middle Holocene. Confirming that how we died had an enormous influence on our ancestors and represents an enormous change in how we understand human societies. Traumatic mortality has an enormous influence among non-human primate social life and environmental adaptations, but not much effort has been dedicated to the study of how such deaths affected the behavioural development of modern humans. Identifying and understanding how humans died is essential for determining the role of violence in shaping our behaviour and, it seems, an equally important factor among our primate relatives. The goal here is to study these behavioural adaptations on the basis of two analytical sections. The first will comprise analysis of human fossils from different key sites from Lake Turkana (Africa): the region is known as the cradle of humankind and the archaeopaleontological record is an essential one for reconstructing our own evolutionary path. The second will be dedicated to integration of forensic science into taphonomic study of human fossils, in addition to development of new non-invasive methods based on virtual analysis and experimentation. The data obtained from this approach will facilitate identification and characterization of traumatic mortality in the archaeological record, in order to integrate our results into the study of past societies to determine which behavioural changes are related to traumatic mortality. The research is an integrated analysis that guarantees the interdisciplinary and innovative nature of the project. Little is known on the role of traumatic mortality in human behavioural adaptations, and therefore the project will represent a major advance.


Net EU contribution
€ 224 933,76
Trinity lane the old schools
CB2 1TN Cambridge
United Kingdom

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East of England East Anglia Cambridgeshire CC
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Other funding
€ 0,00