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Paola Villa

Mumm, Campus Box 315, University
of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado
80309-0315, U.S.A.
Eric Mahieu
Etudes et Prospectives Archblogiques,
265 rue Paradis, 13006 Marseille,
FWZce
Received 20 December 1989
Revision received 10 September
1990 and accepted 1 December
1990
X-crwords:bone breakage,
taphonomy, burial, marrow
fracturing, sediment pressure.
Breakage patterns of human long bOn8S
In the study of fragmented human remains the plausibility of a cannibalism
hypothesis rests primarily on the correct identification of the cause of break-
age. Here the use of fracture morphologies and fragmentation indices for
distinguishing green from postdepositional bone breakage is assessed using
three assemblages of human bone broken by unique and well known causes,
i.e., marrow fracturing of green bone, sediment pressure and impact on sub-
fossil bone. Of the tested attributes, five appear to have diagnostic value at
the statistical, assemblage level: fracture outline, fracture angle, shaft
circumference, shaft fragmentation and breadth/length ratios of shaft
splinters.
Journal of Human Evolution (199 1 I 21,27-48
Introduction
Distinguishing natural fractures from deliberate breakage by humans to extract marrow is an
important issue in the study ofhuman long bone assemblages when cannibalism practices are
suspected. Hammerstone-produced features such as bone microflakes* attached to the shaft
at points ofimpact and marks such as pits and striations (Blumenschine & Selvaggio, 1988, in
press; Turner, 1983, Figures 7 and 8) are diagnostic of marrow fracturing, especially if
potential overlap with carnivore activity can be excluded by other variables or specific
attributes (Blumenschine & Selvaggio, 1988; Brain, 1981, p. 141; Potts, 1982, p. 216).
However, these traces are not constant properties of all bones broken by hammerstone. The
first criteria have been shown to occur in relatively low frequencies in both animal and
human bone assemblages (23% and 10%; Binford, 1981, p. 165; Villa et al., 1986a, p. 436).
Frequencies of the second group of criteria in animal assemblages are similarly not very high
(e.g., 20.496 at FLK ,?jnzanthropus; Blumenschine et al., 1990) though somewhat higher in
experimental samples. More importantly, both kinds of features may be obliterated or
difficult to identify in bone assemblages that have undergone sediment attrition or post-
depositional chemical deterioration and do not have well preserved cortical surfaces. Long
bone breakage morphologies and fragmentation indices can provide additional lines of evi-
dence concerning fresh versus subfossil bone breakage. The purpose of this paper is to
evaluate a number of criteria that are at present poorly developed and considered less
diagnostic than others.
Methodological approach
In recent years breakage patterns of animal bones have been the subject of actualistic
research, especially conc,erning carnivore and hammerstone fracturing of fresh bone
*‘L‘his term refers to incompletely detached small flakes normally associated with zones of impact; they run
through the bone thickness and their platform is bounded by arcuate fissure lines behind the point ofimpact (Bunn,
1981, Figure 4; Villa, 1986a p. 436, 19866 Figure 16). Microflakes form on long bone shafts where cortical bone is
relatively thick. Hammerstone blows on articular ends, where the cortical bone is thinner and supported by
cancellous tissue, will produce depressed margins described by Binford (1981, p. 164, Figure 4.53 and Table 4.06;
Villa 19866, Figure 16.2). All these hammerstone traces were first replicated and defined by French archaeologist
Henri Martin more than 80 years ago (1910).
0047-2484/91/070027 +22 $03.00/O
0 1991 Academic Press Limited
28 P. VILLA AND E. MAHIEU
(Binford, 1981; Blumenschine, 1988; Blumenschine & Selvaggio, 1988, in press; Bunn, 1983;
Haynes 1983a,b, 1988; Johnson, 1985; Lyman 1987; and older references cited in these
papers). Less is known about dry, subfossil or mineralized bone breakage since studies done in
controlled situations are few or limited in scope (Bonnichsen, 1979; Davis, n.d.).
Although various kinds of bone damage (e.g., morphology of cutmarks, impact scars and
gnaw marks) are essentially independent from species-specific bone morphology, other
characteristics such as the relative size and shape of diaphyseal fragments or different sus-
ceptibility to fragmentation and destruction are more likely to be influenced by specific
characters. Thus detailed knowledge of human long bone breakage morphologies should be
developed directly from studies ofhuman bone assemblages. Actualistic research, however, is
limited by difficulties in obtaining large samples for replicative experiments and by culturally
restricted chances for taphonomic observations. In fact, there is little published information
on characteristics of post-mortem human bone breakage aside from general observations of
fractures intuitively ascribed to sediment pressure or rock fall (Trinkaus, 1985) and studies of
gnaw marks on recent or archaeological bone, which have provided no data on diaphyseal
splintering (Haglund et al., 1988; Horwitz & Smith, 1988; Milner & Smith, 1989).
Under special conditions it is possible to derive diagnostic criteria from archaeological
assemblages. Sites and assemblages that are in pristine condition, represent single events or a
simple series ofsingle events, and have been meticulously excavated and recorded, contain a
lot of information about context; their formation processes can be controlled and recon-
structed with confidence. If the cause of fragmentation of an assemblage is unique and
securely identified, it is possible, by studying attributes that werenot used in theoriginal diagnosis,
to define other criteria that may have diagnostic value with respect to the process under
study. In other words, if sites can provide unambiguous information on the effects of certain
taphonomic processes, this information can then be used at other sites with a strong degree of
confidence. This approach is especially useful when long-term processes, such as sediment
compaction acting on progressively weakened bones, are involved: such processes are
characteristic of the archaeological record but are clearly difficult to replicate.
The level of precision and confidence achieved is lower than that obtained in laboratory
experiments, where the process can be produced and replicated at will, but is comparable to
the one provided by natural environment research where the process may not have been
observed while happening yet relations between cause and effect can be established beyond
reasonable doubt (Bonnichsen, 1982; cf. actualistic case studies such as Haglund et al., 1989
and Haynes, 1983). An approach similar to ours has been used by Oliver ( 1986; Lewin, 1984)
in the study of cutmark mimics in a natural trap cave and by Myers et al. ( 1980) on spiral
breaks in paleontological assemblages.
The assemblages
Three archaeological sites in Southern France have provided assemblages of human long
bones broken by unique and securely identified causes. Two of these sites have been
excavated with exceptional care; the third is a special case. They are:
1. Sarrians, a collective burial with bones broken by sediment pressure.
2. Fontbrtgoua, a cave site with an assemblage of cannibalized long bones broken for
marrow extraction, that is by impact on green bone.
3. Bezouce, another collective burial with bones broken by the pick and shovel of the
land owner and amateur archaeologist. Thus the cause of breakage is impact on desiccated,
BREAKAGE PATTERNS OF HUMAN LONG BONES 29
subfossil bone. The bones were collected by professional archaeologists who excavated what
was left of the site. This kind of breakage can be compared to that caused by rock fall at
archaeological cave sites.
These sites allow us to study the products ofgreen versus subfossil bone breakage, that is to
distinguish the effects ofburial from pre-burial processes. The main features and taphonomic
significance of these assemblages are summarized below.
Sarrians
The site (its precise name is “hypogte des Boileau”) is located in the Vaucluse, near the
village of Sarrians and is under current excavation by Eric Mahieu ( 1987a). Its age, indicated
by a few grave goods, is Late Neolithic, approximately 2500 B.C.
The site is an oval chamber dug out in soft sandstone on a hill slope. In an area of 12 m2 150
individuals (1989 estimate) were tightly packed and piled on top of each other, forming a
layer which is more than 40 cm thick (Figure 1). The excavation is done with microspatulas
with blunt, rounded edges, to avoid moving or marring the bones; the sediment is gently
removed with vacuum cleaners. Photogrammetry, small scale maps and B/W photos are used
to produce exact distribution plans of the bones (Mahieu 1986, 19876). These records show
that bones were broken in situ; fragments of the same bone lie adjacent to each other,
incomplete fractures prolonged by fissure lines are occasionally present, breakage occurs in
bones resting on convex or concave surfaces (Figure 2). Breakage is clearly due to a process of
dew compaction and void filling, folowing organic decay, in the pile of bodies which were
buried under a sand layer varying in thickness from 50-60 cm at the edges to 100 cm in the
center and against one wall. The presence ofincomplete fracture lines suggests that breakage
was a long-term process acting on diagenetically altered and progressively weakened bones.
Our sample includes the long bones of 14 individuals (10 adults, three adolescents, one
child) for a total of 32 1 specimens ofwhich 281 are broken shaft or end plus shaft* fragments.
All bones come from articulated skeletons or articulated anatomical segments, in one case
from a bundle of bones of the same individual, aligned near the wall. All fractures are in situ
i.e., pieces were found in contact with their conjoinable counterparts. A few excessively
cornminuted bones or fracture margins have not been considered.
Sarrians is exceptional because it provides a large assemblage of articulated long bones in
absolutely pristine context, in good state of preservation and with extensive excavation
records, which prove that only sedimentary pressure and no other breakage process has
affected these bones. Bones are not permineralized but have no collagen content, as indicated
by chemical analysis of a long bone fragment by Margaret Schoeninger (pers. comm.). They
are brittle and less resistant to breakage than bones of the other two sites, but not friable;
the cortical surfaces are well-preserved with no traces ofsubaerial weathering nor postdepo-
sitional corrosion. The present state ofpreservation ofthese bones is related to the end, not the
beginning of the breakage process, which probably started long ago, after flesh decay created
voids and zones of differential pressure in the mass of bodies and sand.
Fontbrtfgoua
This cave with a 3-m deep Early and Middle Neolithic sequence, is under current excavation
by Jean Courtin ofthe French C.N.R.S. The sample studied consists of 156 shaft and end plus
*“End plus shaft” are specimens consisting ofepiphysis and attached complete or partial diaphysis.
30 P. VILLA AND E. MAHIEU
Figure 1. Sarrians (Vaucluse, Southern France). This collective burial, dated to the third millennium B.C.
is under current excavation by Eric Mahieu.
shaft fragments? belonging to a minimum of six individuals (three adults, two children/
adolescent and one individual ofindeterminate age). This assemblage was found in a shallow
hollow, 80 x 40 cm and 15 cm deep which also contained bones of the axial skeleton, to the
exclusion of cranial parts (Figure 3). This cluster of bones, called feature H3, is dated to
3930 + 130 B.C. (uncalibrated 14C date on bone collagen by the Lyon laboratory, Ly 3748).
All visible objects were plotted with three Cartesian coordinates, and all sediment was
water screened, allowing the recovery of many small bone chips (Villa et al., 1986a, note 18);
34% of the pieces have been refitted.
Our argument in favor ofcannibalism has been published (Villa et&., 1986a,b, 1987, 1988)
and will not be repeated here. Evidence oflong bone breakage by percussion on green bone is
based on several lines of evidence:
1. A 20% frequency of impact notches, half of which have microflakes adhering to the
impact point.
2. Bone surfaces are unweathered, uneroded and have sharp fracture edges.
3. Breakage by sediment pressure is excluded by horizontal (Figure 4) and vertical (Villa
et al., 1986a, Figure 2) maps showing the position of each bone fragment. Refitting links
indicate that fragments ofthe same bone were not found adjacent to each other (as expected if
they have been broken in place by pressure or a falling rock) but were separated by distances
of up to 50 cm within the feature. The few refitting pieces that have been found adjacent to
tThis sample includes 50 long bone fragments that can be assigned to the genus Homo with a good degree of
confidence; these fragments were not included in the H3 sample of Villa et al. ( 1986a,b, Tables 2 and 3) comprising
only bones that can be identified with total confidence.
BREAKAGE PATTERNS OF HUMAN LONG BONES 31
Figure 2. Bones broken in situ at Sarrians
each other (see short links in Figure 4; six cases in total) were either superimposed or head to
tail, as shown by detailed maps drawn during excavation.
4. Breakage by trampling (which would tend to disperse the bones) is excluded by the
sharp horizontal boundaries of the bone cluster. Ten other clusters containing butchered
animal bones and very similar in size and shape to H3 have been found and have similarly
sharp horizontal and vertical boundaries (Villa et al., 1985, 1986aJ).
5. Carnivore gnawing is excluded by: a. total absence of tooth marks, b. the repetitive
shape and size ofthe human and animal bone clusters and c. their homogeneous and species-
specific content (Villa et al., 1985, 1986a,b). These facts are incompatible with a carnivore
origin ofthe features and prove that the H3 cluster is intact and man-made. Again, the spatial
distribution ofrefitting fragments shows that the bones were broken before being thrown into
the hollow.
Cutmarks made by stone tools are found on 30% of the bones. These marks are not recent
scratches: excavation tools used at Fontbregoua are small putty trowels with round ends that
cannot produce cutmark mimics, bones are not covered with preservatives, have not been
restored and craniographs have never been used (White & Toth, 1989). SEM photos show
encrusted sedimentary matrix covering the tool marks thus supporting their antiquity (Villa
et al., 19866, Figures 10:3-4; Villa et al., 1987, p. 51). Cutmarks are not randomly placed
(Olsen & Shipman, 1988) but are found in locations predicted by modern butchery studies,
32
P. VILLA AND E. MAHIEU
Figure 3. Feature H3: cluster of cut-marked and broken human bones in Fontbrtgoua Cave (Provence,
Southern France) Photo courtesy ofJean Courtin, director ofexcavations.
0 25 50
L 13
.
t
_*
75 cm
L 12
.
. bones m stone ax
A fragments of bracelets
Figure 4. Feature H3: horizontal plan and refitting links between conjoinable pieces.
and comparisons with fauna1 assemblages (Villa ei at., 19866, 1988). Some marks go across a
fracture line separating two conjoined fragments found at different locations (Villa et al.,
19866, Figure 1 I:5 and 6) proving that bones were cut-marked before being broken. In sum,
BREAKAGE PATTERNS OF HUMAN LONG BONES 33
there is no doubt that these bones document butchery and breakage by hammerstone blows,
to the exclusion of other processes.
Fontbrkgoua is one of the extremely few well-documented cases ofprehistoric cannibalism.
In the Old World there are no undisputed archaeological assemblages that have provided a
relatively large sample of human long bones demonstrably broken by percussion when fresh.
To our knowledge, no ethnographic assemblages of this kind have ever been analysed or
collected. Only in the New World have comparable assemblages of cannibalized bones been
reported by Turner (1983) for the American Southwest.
Like Sarrians but unlike many other archaeological assemblages, the FontbrCgoua bones
have been found in pristine conditions and have undergone only one cycle ofbreakage. Their
state of preservation is excellent: cortical surfaces are compact with a dense texture, fracture
surfaces have fresh, sharp edges, allowing easy diagnosis and attribute description. Collagen
content is high with values ranging from 24.6, to 14, 13.5 and 2.7O/b on four samples analysed
by Margaret Schoeninger (in fresh bone collagen is about 257,). Since bones were broken
when fresh, their present state of preservation is only a measure of ease in morphological
analysis.
Bqouce
Like Sarrians, this is a collective burial, although a smaller one with 22 individuals (MN1
based on humeri; Mahieu, 1990). The surrounding area is flat, so the chamber was built with
stones (Roudil, 1984). The color of fracture surfaces shows that these bones have undergone
two cycles of breakage. The first cycle with patinated fracture surfaces is old; it is probably
due to roof collapse and sediment pressure. The second cycle is due to the violent excavation
methods of the land owner; fracture surfaces are white. The analysed assemblage is composed
of shaft and end plus shaft fragments: 99 have recent fractures, 114 have one recent and one
old fracture, and 204 have old fractures only. Our analysis concerns only pieces with recent
fractures because their cause of breakage is well established by oral information. The total
number of pieces with recent fractures is actually 261 but to enhance comparability with
Fontbrkgoua (see section on length of analysed sample) we restricted the analysis to pieces
longer than 3.9 cm, except for conjoinable fragments. Thus, although screening procedures
were less meticulous than at the other two sites, they do not affect the analysis. As at Sarrians
breakage affected desiccated, brittle bones, but here it was a dynamic rather than a static
process.
This assemblage is remarkable in a negative sense, in having such a large proportion of
excavator’s breaks on robust bones. Bones are not permineralized; although brittle, they are
more resistant to breakage than those from Sarrians. Cortical surfaces have no traces of
subaerial weathering but show abundant root etching. Collagen content is fairly low (3.4O/,,;
Schoeninger, pers. comm.). In this case the present physical state ofbones and their breakage
process are contemporaneous.
Analytical procedures
We have looked at the following features: fracture angle, fracture outline, fracture edge, shaft
circumference, shaft fragmentation and shaft length. Attribute states are described under the
appropriate heading. These attributes have been defined by other workers (Bonnichsen,
1979; Bunn, 1983; Johnson, 1985; Morlan, 1984) but there is very little quantitative infor-
mation on frequencies of these attributes in assemblages of known origin, with the exception
34 P. VILLA AND E. MAHIEU
ofBunn’s paper which provides data on shaft circumference and shaft length frequencies for
two assemblages of animal bones.
Each fragment is identified to body part, segment and portion (Gifford & Crader, 1977);
other recorded attributes are side, age, length, breadth (only when the shaft diameter is
less than half the original), and refitting group, in addition to provenience information.
Excluding indeterminate cases, most bones belong to adults: 73% at Sarrians (206 of 281),
94% at Bezouce (92 of98) and 77% at Fontbregoua (56 of73). Epiphyseal fragments without
diaphysis have not been considered because epiphyses break differently from diaphyses and
there are insufficient isolated epiphyses in the Fontbregoua and Sarrians samples to make a
separate study worthwhile. The Fontbregoua and Bezouce samples do not contain complete
bones; there were 19 complete long bones in the original Sarrians sample; they have been
excluded from all analyses, including that of shaft circumference.
Fracture angle
This is the angle formed by the fracture surface and the bone cortical surface. Obtuse or acute
angles are commonly associated with green bone fractures while, right angles are said to be
preferentially associated with dry or permineralized bone fractures (Johnson, 1985; Morlan,
1984). Recorded attribute states are: 1. oblique (i.e. obtuse or acute); 2. right; 3. oblique and
right (for fractures that have variable angles). Angles have been assessed visually, as in
Bonnichsen (1979, p. 221). This description is used for proximal and distal fractures (Figure
5). Juvenile or thin cortical bone have not been considered.
Figure6 shows a very clear contrast between Sarrians and Bezouce on one hand with only 8.2
and 10.7% ofoblique angles and Fontbregoua on the other with 65.5%. Chi square values are
very high for Fontbregoua vs. Sarrians ( 164.08) and for Fontbregoua vs. Bezouce ( 140.25; in
both cases P<O*OOl) and very low for Sarrians vs. Bezouce (3.02, P=O*OZ) showing no
significant difference between the latter two assemblages. Note that raw frequencies for
fracture angle and other attributes are provided in captions to Figures 6,8, 10 and 11.
Fracture outline
The classification of fracture shapes on bone presents problems similar to those encountered
in the classification of Lower Paleolithic stone tools: in both cases there is a lot ofunpatterned
variability and intergradation between attribute states (Villa, 1983, p. 99; see also Bunn,
1982, p. 43). These problems are made more acute by the fact that long bone fragments
can be: 1. complete shafts with four conventionally distinct but spatially coalescing faces
(anterior, posterior, lateral and medial), each with a choice of two fracture localizations
(proximal, distal) for a total ofeight possible Iocalizations; 2. thin splinters with only one face,
two lateral fractures and two end fractures; and 3. shafts ofincomplete diameter with variable
numbers oflocalizations (three to seven) for end fractures. Based on our own trials, we believe
that a precise classification of fracture outlines face by face, such as the one attempted by
Karen Davis (n.d.), is difficult to use and hard to replicate by another observer or by the same
observer at a later time.
Since this research is at the exploratory stage, we believe that it is wise to keep categories as
simple and easy to replicate as possible. Recorded attribute states apply to proximal and distal
fractures of both splinters and more complete shaft specimens and are as follows (Figure 7):
1. transverse, describing fractures that are straight and transverse to the bone long axis; 2.
curved, that is spiral fractures or portions of spiral fractures (Potts, 1988) combined with V-
shaped or pointed fractures in the diagram ofFigure 8 but kept separate in the raw data-this
BREAKAGE PATTERNS OF HUMAN LONG BONES 35
SAR (269)
BE2 (253)
FE (174)
Fracture angle
m Oblique
0 Right
q Oblique and right
Figure 6. Relative frequencies of fracture angles. Absolute frequencies for oblique, right, and oblique and
right angles are as follows: Sarrians 22, 176, 71; Bezouce 27, 174,52; Fontbrkgoua 114,47, 13.
36
e
Figure 7. Examples of curved (a, b, c and e, left), transverse (d) and V-shaped (e, right) fractures from
Bezouce (a, b, d), Sarrians (c) and Fontbrkgoua (e).
category represents complex, multidirectional morphologies, in clear opposition to simple
transverse, rectilinear morphologies; and 3. intermediatewhich includes fractures that have a
straight morphology but are diagonal, and fractures with a stepped outlinePthis category
has the same function as the “miscellaneous”, “divers” and “sundry tools” categories of
traditional lithic typologies, i.e., it acts as a catch-all for all those cases that do not fit neatly
SAR (358)
BEZ (287)
FB (2611
BREAKAGE PATTERNS OF HUMAN LONG BONES
Fracture outline
m Transverse
17 Curved/V-shaped
q Intermediate
Figure 8. Relative frequencies of fracture outlines. Absolute frequencies for transverse, curved and V-
shaped, and intermediate fractures are as follows: Sarrians 193, 74f 32, 59; Bezouce 144, 59+23, 61;
Fontbregoua 92.42 +92,35.
37
Figure 9. Jagged fracture surfaces (Sarrians) For an example of smooth surfaces see Figure 5b.
into the “transverse”, “curved” or “V-shaped” classes. Its purpose is to reveal patterns by
limiting analytical noise. Lateral fractures* and fractures on or near epiphyses have not been
considered.
*The term longitudinal fractures is often used to describe lateral breaks parallel to the shaft long axis; by
extension, the term is applied to subrectangular shaft splinters produced by such breaks. Longitudinal fractures seem
to be common in dry or subfossil bone; however, experiments show that lateral breaks in fresh bones are often more or
less parallel to the shaft long axis. Following previous analysis (Bonnichsen, 1979) we classified lateral breaks as
either parallel or oblique but we soon found these categories unsatisfactory because of intergradation between the
two attribute states. Thus we decided to quantify the overall shape of a fragment through the shaft circumference
attribute only; in other words, longitudinal fractures are represented by fragments with shaft circumference 1. In
the course of the analysis we noticed that some fresh-fractured shaft splinters at Fontbregoua have twisted profiles
that do not occur in postdepositionally broken bones. In the future we should develop a systematic description of
lateral breaks that would separate such diagnostic byproducts of green bone breakage from other non-diagnostic
morphologies.
38 P. VILLA AND E. MAHIEU
SAR (358)
BEZ (287)
FB (261)
Fracture edge
m Smooth
r- .Innnrr4
Figure 10. Relative frequencies of fracture edges. Absolute frequencies for smooth and jagged fracture
surfaces are as follows: Sarrians 111,247; Bezouce 158, 129; Fontbregoua 163,98.
Shaft circumference
SAR (226)
BEZ (93)
FB (151)
Figure 11. Relative frequencies of shaft circumference. I = circumference is <i of the original; 2 = > i;
3 = complete. Absolute frequencies for the 1,2,3 categories are as follows: Sarrians 16, 10,200; Bezouce 33,
0,60; Fontbregoua 115,23, 13.
Figure 8 shows again a contrast between Sarrians and Bezouce on one hand, both with a
majority of transverse fractures, and Fontbrtgoua on the other, with a majority of curved
fractures. Chi square values are as follows: Sarrians vs. Fontbregoua 30.74; Bezouce vs.
Fontbregoua 30.46 (P<O*OOl in both cases); Sarrians vs. Bezouce 2.28 (P>O.30, not sig-
nificant). It is clear that breakage outline, like fracture angle, is dependent on bone
Table 1 Body part frequelIcics
BREAKAGE PATTERNS OF HUMAN LONG BONES 39
Sarrians
(“0)
Bezouce
(“0)
Fontbrtgoua
(“A)
Femur 20.4 38.7 IO.6
Tibia 15.9 18.3 18.5
Fib& 22.1 7.5 3.4
Humerus 12.8 9.7 13.3
Radius 13.3 3.2
Ulna 15.5 5.4 8.6
Indeterminate long bone 17.2 45.0
,‘I‘ 226 93 151
Percentages of body part representation in the shaft circumference and
shaft fragmentation samples, which exclude all fragments shorter than 4 cm.
See section on length of analysed fragments for explanation.
Figure 12. (a J Cylinders from Bezouce. (b) Elongate splinters (twisted profiles to the right) from
Fontbrkgoua.
40 I’. VILLA AND E. MAHIEU
Table 2 Combined tabulation of abaft length and circumfertncc
Length
Circumference 1 2 3 4
1
2
3
Total
I
2
3
Total
I
2
3
Total
Sarrians
16 0 0 0
9 1 0 0
66 60 62 12
91 61 62 12
&ZOUCC
31 2 0 0
0 0 0 0
30 25 4 I
61 27 4 1
Fontbr@ua
77 32 5 I
6 8 5 4
2 5 4 2
85 45 14 7
physical conditions (fresh, old), thus grouping together Bezouce and Sarrians, in contrast to
FontbrCgoua.
The occurrence of spiral fractures on desiccated, subfossil bone comes as no surprise to
taphonomists; we note however that spiral fractures with offsets (i.e. a spiral outline displaced
by right-angie offsets, due to the presence of drying cracks; Mot-Ian, 1980, Figure 3.2 and
Haynes, 19836, Figure 2) are present in the Bezouce and Sarrians samples (6.8% and 17.0%
ofcurved outlines, that is four of59 and 18 of 106) but totally absent at Fontbrtgoua.
Fracture edge
This attribute refers to the aspect or texture of the fracture margin: smooth or jagged
(Figure 9). Green bone breakage is said to be characterized by smooth margins and surfaces;
jagged edges are found on dry bone (Johnson, 1985; Morlan, 1984). Figure 10 shows a
significant difference between Sarrians and Fontbrtgoua. Unexpectedly Bezouce has a
majority of smooth surfaces, like FontbrCgoua and unlike Sarrians. Chi square values are:
Sarrians vs. Fontbrkgoua 59.24; Sarrians vs. Bezouce 35.90 (P< O-001 in both cases); Bezouce
vs. FontbrCgoua 3.10 (not significant). We conclude that this attribute will not discriminate
between aid and fresh bone breakage. Perhaps the kind offorce (dynamic versus static force)
is more important than whether the bone is old and desiccated or fresh.
Shaft circumference
This is an attribute developed by Bunn (1983) who used it to differentiate a bone assemblage
accumulated by a hyena (characterized by a majority of specimens with complete shaft
diameter) from bones broken by hunter/gatherers (with a majority of splinters). Attribute
states are:
1. Bone circumference is less than half of the original (e.g., Figure 7b).
2. Circumference is more than half in at least a portion of the bone length.
3. Complete circumference in at least a portion of the bone length (Figure 7a, c).
BREAKAGE PATTERNS OF HUMAN LONG BONES 41
As explained below (cf. “Length of analysed shaft fragments”), samples used in this and
following analyses (shaft length and B/L ratios) do not include fragments shorter than 4 cm.
This restriction should be taken into account in the following discussion.
Bezouce and Sarrians (Figure 11) have a large majority of specimens with complete
diameter (64.5 and 88.5)) at Fontbrtgoua splinters predominate (76.2%). Chi square values
are: Sarrians us. Fontbrtgoua 231.80; Bezouce us. Fontbregoua 83.15; Sarrians vs. Bezouce
23.57 (P< 0.001 in all cases). In this test the 1 and 2 categories have been combined because
Bezouce has zero frequencies for shaft circumference 2 and the chi-square test requires cell
frequencies greater than 1 (Siegel, 1956, p. 110). The higher frequencies of shaft circum-
ference 1 at Bezouce (where violent excavation methods were used on already broken bones)
account for the relatively high value of the chi-square for Bezouce us. Sarrians; however,
their divergence is much smaller than with Fontbregoua. Clearly, of the two assemblages
with postdepositionally broken bones, Sarrians with its intact context and meticulously
excavated bones provides the most robust pattern. Still, it is remarkable that after two
breakage cycles specimens with complete shaft diameters still outnumber shaft splinters at
Bezouce.
High frequencies of complete shaft diameters are not, as one may suggest, the effect of
disproportionate numbers of bones with small diameters and/or thick cortical walls, such as
fibulae, radii and ulnae. Table 1 shows that at Bezouce and Fontbregoua fibulae and arm
bones occur in comparable frequencies, yet there is great disparity in the relative frequencies
of complete diameters. Fibulae and arm bones are, however, more resistant to splitting, as
obser\:ed by Trinkaus ( 1985) : at Sarrians 98 ‘?a of these bones preserve complete diameters,
but only 73.9:!, of the tibias do so.
In sum, high frequencies of complete diameters appear to characterize assemblages of
postdepositionally broken bones. There is potential overlap with carnivore-generated
features, since fauna1 assemblages produced by carnivores appear to be characterized by
some cylinders (i.e. complete shafts or shaft segments without epiphyses) and by high
frequencies of articular ends with attached shafts preserving complete diameters in at least
one portion of their length (Binford, 1981, pp. 171-173; Bunn, 1983; Todd & Rapson,
1988). This ambiguity can easily be resolved by observing the incidence of other variables
such as tooth marks (Blumenschine, 1988; Todd & Rapson, 1988). Moreover, the overall
morphology of the Sarrians and Bezouce cylinders is quite different from those produced by
carnivores: compare Figure 12 showing cylinders bounded by transverse or stepped frac-
tures with Figure 4.57 in Binford (1981) with cylinders characterized by denticulated,
irregular, scalloped edges. We note that at Sarrians gnaw marks are completely absent; at
Bezouce two possible gnaw marks have been observed on a total of 444 recorded long bone
specimens.
Shafttfkagmentation
This attribute, based on a combined tabulation of shaft circumference versus shaft length,
appears to provide the most diagnostic pattern. Shaft length is categorized as follows:
1. corresponds to shafts that are less than one-fourth the original length (length here refers
to shafts only, the articular end is not taken into account);
2. is a length comprised between one-fourth and one-half.
3. is between one-half and three-fourths.
4. is more than three-fourths, essentially a complete or almost complete shaft.
Sarr~ans 12261
2G
10
-__._,
I
2
3
4
Shaft length
(0)
Shaft length
ibl
,=OfltbrigOUO (Itif)
Shaft length
(cl
BREAKAGE PATTERNS OF HUMAN LONG BONES 43
This classification is more detailed than the one devised by Bunn (1983) which had
only three categories; however our data can be compared to his by lumping our 1 and 2
together.
Table 2 and Figure 13a-c indicate that Bezouce and Sarrians consist essentially of tubular
pieces of various lengths, from 4 to 1, while all splinters, that is fragments with shaft circum-
ference = 1 or 2, are very short, almost all shorter than one-fourth the original length. In other
words, at both sites breakage affects more the length than the circumference of the shaft. At
Fontbregoua breakage affects both aspects.
Particularly interesting is the presence at Fontbregoua of 25.296 of splinters that are
long and narrow, relative to the original bone shape (shaft circumference= 1 and shaft
length = 2-4). If we include fragments with shaft circumference 2, all of which are splinters
that preserve a larger diameter only on a small part of their length, frequencies go up to
36.4O,,. At Sarrians and Bezouce this class is essentially absent (frequencies are 0 and 2.1 no
respectively). These elongate splinters are the product ofwhat has been called longitudinal
diaphyseal splitting. In the past this breakage pattern was considered diagnostic of humanly
broken bones (Breuil & Weidenreich cited in Binford, 1981, p. 12); more recently Binford has
challenged this view showing that this pattern occurs in bones broken by gnawing dogs
(1981, p. 56). Inalaterpaper thesameauthor (Binford & Ho, 1985, pp. 414and437) hasalso
suggested that breakage of longitudinally split human bones from Zhoukoudian was due to
weathering cracks and has labelled the idea that longitudinal splitting is indicative ofhuman
action an “ancient folk belief ‘.
Yet at Fontbregoua Cave bones show no traces at all of subaerial weathering, have no
deterioration cracks and were not chewed by dogs. Clearly elongate splinters can bea product
ofpercussion on green bone. Sarrians and Bezouce, on the contrary, show that subfossil bone
tends to break in short splinters. We note that at Fontbrigoua two-thirds of the elongate
splinters have curved end fractures and oblique angles; some are characterized by twisted,
helicoidal profiles (Figure 12) that do not occur in the other two assemblages, which are
characterized by splinters with parallel or subparallel lateral breaks (see footnote, p. 37).
Length of analysed shaft fragments
The number ofobservations falling into the category shaft length = 1 depends on the smallest
absolute length of the long bone fragments the analyst chooses to consider and/or is able to
assign to the genus Homo, ifnot to body part, without doubt. The archaeological context plays
a role in this problem.
Sarrians and Bezouce were not habitation sites and contained no fauna. Since bones at
Sarrians were broken in situ, even minute fragments could be assigned to species and body
part without hesitation; thus the original Sarrians sample contains 51 shaft fragments
between 1 and 4 cm long. At Bezouce there are also no species identification problems and all
small splinters can be securely attributed to Homo. On the other hand, Fontbregoua is an
habitation site. Although feature H3 was clearly made to contain only human postcranial
bones, the cave sediment is rich in animal bones; their fortuitous presence around and in the
sediment that covered and fihed the feature is not surprising and several were found at the
Figure 13. (a)- ic) Three-dimensional bar diagrams showing relative frequencies of shaft length by shaft
circumference. Shaft length categories are: 1 = <i of the original length; 2 = i to k; 3 =$ to ‘1; 4 = > : or
complete. Absolute frequencies are provided in Table 2.
44 P. VILLA AND E. MAHIEU
Breadth/ length
0 20 40 % 0 20 40 %
,,,I,, III4II
0
0. I
0.2
0.3
0.4
0.5
0.6
0.7
0.0
Ber
(33)
I-
I ’
r-
SClr
Bez
Fb --LF t
L 1 I I I I I I I
0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.7 0.6
- 0.r.
0 S.d.
W 95% confidence
interval
1 Mean
Figure 14. Comparisons of breadth/length ratios of shaft splinters. Abbreviations: o.r. =observed range;
s.d. =standard deviation. The 95% confidence intervals ofthe mean overlap for Sarrians and Bezouce and
separate these two sites from Fontbrigoua.
periphery of the feature. Shaft splinters smaller than 4 cm are often impossible to separate
from animal bone fragments; thus they are under represented (n=5) in the Fontbrtgoua
sample which does not include fragments non-identifiable to species. To eliminate this dis-
parity between assemblages we have established a cut-off point for absolute length: all shaft
fragments smaller than 4 cm are excluded from the shaft circumference, shaft fragmentation
and breadth/length samples. Inclusion offragments I-3.9 cm long in the sample would have
the effect of increasing the category “circumference 1 and length 1” of a few percentage
points at Sarrians and more than doubling its frequency at Bezouce* but it would have no
effect on the relative frequencies of elongate splinters, which are absent at Sarrians and
Bezouce.
Breadth/length ratios. Samples include only shaft splinters with length >4 cm (see previous
section) and breadth smaller than the original shaft diameter. End plus shaft fragments are
excluded. This greatly reduces the size of the Bezouce and Sarrians assemblages although
their comparisons still retain information value. Figure 14 shows that the Fontbrtgoua
assemblage has lower breadth/length ratios than the other two sites. This difference is
independent from types oflong bone present. Logically larger bones such as femurs and tibias
will tend to yield fragments with greater breadth/length ratios than narrower bones such as
fibulas and radii. In fact, mean B/L ratios offemurs are 0.39 at Sarrians and 0.40 at Bezouce
while FontbrCgoua has a mean ratio of0.26; for tibias ratios are 0.3 1 and 0.42 for Sarrians and
Bezouce, O-19 for Fontbrkgoua; for indeterminate long bones ratios are 0.34 at Bezouce and
*At Sarrians the increase would be from 16 (as in Table 2) to 50 (7.1 to 17.9%); at Bezouce from 3 1 to 190 (33.3 to
75.496).
BREAKAGE PATTERNS OF HUMAN LONG BONES 45
0. 22 at Fontbregoua (this class is not represented at Sarrians). Student’s t-values are high for
all cases and P varies between 0.02 and < O+OOl . The Sarrians and Bezouce samples are too
small and other types of bones cannot be compared; but the previous figures clearly suggest
that mean B/L ratios are consistently smaller at Fontbrtgoua* and are not determined by
differences in body part representation.
Results
Fracture angle, fracture outline, shaft circumference, shaft fragmentation and B/L ratios are
criteria of diagnostic value with respect to breakage processes and can be used to separate
subfossil bone breakage from hammerstone breakage of green bone. These criteria are useful
at the statistical, assemblage level but are not diagnostic for individual pieces. Individual
pieces can be identified as the result of hammerstone breakage only if they preserve impact
notches with incompletely detached microflakes, possibly in association with percussion pits
and grooves, or if the archaeological context points unequivocally to that interpretation.
This situation finds a parallel in the diagnosis ofearly stone or bone artifacts. These too can
be unequivocaly identified as man-made only by a combination of attributes (multiple flake
scars in an orderly pattern, recurring shapes and clear bulbs ofpercussion) at the assemblage
level. Isolated pieces pose serious problems unless they have naturally improbable shapes
(e.g., an elaborate biface shape) or are found in an unambiguous man-made context and
association (like the wooden spear embedded in an elephant thoracic cage at Lehringen).
Based on knowledge of animal bone fracture patterns, we expect carnivore breakage of
green human bone to resemble in part hammerstone breakage. However, high frequencies of
tooth marks, distinctive patterns of destruction and specific morphologies of gnawed edges
are to be expected in carnivore-modified assemblages (Blumenschine, 1988; see also Horwitz
& Smith, 1988; Milner & Smith, 1989).
Applications
Fracture morphologies and shaft fragmentation indices should be used in the study of the
Neandertal bones from Krapina, where the hypothesis ofcannibalism remains controversial.
Russell (1987a) studied the Krapina bones to see whether their breakage was natural and due
to sediment pressure and rock fall, as Trinkaus had suggested in 1985, or due to marrow
fracturing, i.e., for cannibalism. She argued that the strongest indicators ofhuman percussion
on green bone shafts are microflakes adhering to the point ofimpact (see LiIntroduction” and
footnote therein).
Russell did not find such features on the Krapina bones and therefore she argued that
breakage was natural and there had been no cannibalism at Krapina, only geological break-
age of bones that had been given secondary burial.
If she is right, it cannot be for the reasons given. First, microflakes adhering to the impact
point are not common features. At Fontbrigoua they are found on only 10% of the long
bones. Comparable percentages have been provided by Binford (1981) for reindeer bones
broken by the Nunamiut for marrow extraction (see “Introduction”).
*Although we cannot test mean differences in breadth/length ratios for splinters shorter than 4 cm in bones broken
when fresh or broken after burial, we suspect that such differences would vanish as length decreases. Breadth cannot
decrease with the same gradient as length because very thin splinters become comminuted into bits too minuscule for
analysis; thus splinters shorter than 34 cm will have similar breadth/length ratios in all kinds ofassemblages.
46 P. VILLA AND E. MAHIEU
Not only are microflakes rare, they are also very fragile and easy to detach from the bone.
One cannot reasonably expect to find them preserved on bones that have undergone even
slight mechanical attrition in sediments, bones made fragile by post-burial chemical alter-
ation and bones that have been handled and shifted in drawers for a long time, as the Krapina
bones. Clearly incompletely detached spalls are easy to detach; these features can be pre-
served only on bones in pristine conditions. * This is not the case for the Krapina bones which
were very fragile and had to be preserved with shellac, had been vertically displaced in the
sediment, as indicated by refitting offragments from different levels, and have been handled
for many years.
In sum, the absence of particular impact scars carries no positive significance in the case
of assemblages with a complex taphonomic or post-excavation history, i.e., bones that do
not have well-preserved cortical surfaces and have undergone sediment attrition or post-
depositional deterioration. The criteria we have developed in this paper should be used in
the absence of hammerstone-produced features, or as a complement to them, because they
provide an additional and significant line of evidence. The Krapina materials should be
re-evaluated using these patterns.?
The applicability of these criteria to the study of fauna1 bones should be tested through
analysis of archaeological and paleontological assemblages. Since fracture morphologies and
*Microflakes can also become detached during transport as experience with shipping Hadza assemblages of
percussion-broken bones shows (Larry Bartram, pers. comm.).
tThe refutation of cannibalism at Krapina rests also on Russell’s study of cutmarks, but the cutmarks data she
used are equally unsuitable for the purpose (Russell, 19876). She compared cutmark frequencies from Krapina,
Juntunen (a North American ossuary dated to 132Ok 75 A.D. containing bonesdefleshed for secondary burial) and
Combe Grenal (a French Mousterian site where reindeer bones were processed for food). In frequency and location
ofcutmarks Krapina is very similar to Juntunen, and both are different from Combe Grenal where cutmarks are said
to be fewer and differently placed. Since defleshing for meat at Combe Grenal seemed to produce few marks, she
suggested that high frequency of marks at Krapina were the result of bone cleaning practices related to secondary
burial. We question this interpretation for the following reasons:
1. Combe Grenal is not a valid sample. Russell used data published by Binford (1981, Table 4.03).
Unfortunately, Binford’s table includes only articular ends, not limb shafts; Binford himselfexplains that limb shaft
fragments were not routinely saved at Combe Grenal ( 1981, pp. 99, 134). Since the incidence of cut marks can be
very high on limb shafts (Bunn, 1986, p. 437; Marshall, 1986, p. 664, Tables 1 and 2), the reported cutmark
frequency at Combe Grenal is likely to be lower than in the original assemblage. Limb shafts are present in the
Krapina and Juntunen assemblages (to which Combe Grenal is compared) and typically carry many defleshing
marks (Russell, 19876 Figures 3,4,6 and 7) In sum the omission oflimb shafts from the Combe Grenal assemblage
undermines its value for comparative purposes, both in term of cutmark frequencies and locations (for the latter
Russell could only use descriptions of isolated examples by Binford and by Henri Martin who in reality described La
Quina, not Combe Grenal). Interestingly, chi-square tests based on data published by Chase (1986, pp. 62-65 and
Tables A22A5) indicate no significant differences for tibias and humeri between Krapina and Combe Grenal
(chi-square values are 2.19 and 2.35, not significant at the 0.05 level for df= 1).
2. Several fauna1 assemblages show the high frequency of cutmarks and the kind of defleshing marks Russell
associates with secondary burial; but in fauna1 assemblages secondary burial is out of the question. For instance, we
may compare frequencies of marks on Krapina humeri, femora, tibiae, and scapulae with values published for
Ngamuriak large bovids (Marshall, 1986, Table 2) and the animal sample from Fontbregoua (sheep and wild boar;
Villa er al., 1986a, Table 4). For Krapina, Juntunen, Ngamuriak and the Fontbregoua animal sample, in this order,
percentage values are: humerus 45.8,351,54.7, and 40.0; femur 66.7,36.4,30.8 and 41.4; tibia 20.0,20.0,19.7 and
40.0; scapula 47.4, 44.1, 46.1, 44.4. Chi-square tests on raw frequencies show no significant differences for any of
these elements in all four assemblages; chi-square values are all smaller than 3.84. In addition, locations of marks
reported by Russell at Krapina and Juntunen are very similar to those found on the Fontbregoua human and animal
bones (Villa, in prep.).
In sum, Russell’s data are inadequate to prove the thesis of secondary burial and to refute the cannibalism
hypothesis. In principle the Krapina fauna1 collection should be used in comparisons with the human bones. But the
Krapina fauna is selected and incomplete, and information on mode of bone disposal is lost; thus only bone breakage
can provide a significant argument.
BREAKAGE PATTERNS OF HUMAN LONG BONES 47
fragmentation indices are constant properties ofbroken bone, they can be studied even when
the bone cortical surfaces would not allow reliable identification of various impact traces.
Acknowledgements
We thank Margaret Schoeninger for doing analyses of collagen content. We also thank her,
Larry Bartram, Jim Oliver, Nick Toth and one journal referee for very useful, critical
comments.
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