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A skeleton from Peru vies for the title of oldest known shark attack victim

When news broke that the oldest known case of a person killed by a shark involved a member of Japan’s Jōmon culture around 3,000 years ago, two researchers took special notice (SN: 7/23/21).

Back in 1976, bioarchaeologist Robert Benfer of the University of Missouri in Columbia and Harvard University anthropological archaeologist Jeffrey Quilter had participated in an excavation of a roughly 17-year-old boy’s skeleton that bore signs of a fatal shark encounter. The boy’s left leg was missing and his right hip and right forearm bones displayed deep bite marks characteristic of those made by sharks, the scientists say.

“Successful shark bites usually involve tearing off a limb, often a leg, and ingesting it,” Benfer says. An unsuccessful attempt to ward off a shark presumably resulted in the boy’s arm injuries.

Radiocarbon dating indicated that the teen, whose remains were discovered at a Peruvian village site called Paloma, died around 6,000 years ago before being placed in a grave unlike any others in his community, says Benfer, who directed investigations at Paloma in 1976 and in three more field seasons that concluded in 1990. That could make the teen the oldest known shark attack victim.

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