Hack marks visible on the left side of this fragment of a human tibia are testament to the removal of muscle and tendon. Tools were also used to make finer slices, to remove tissue or to sever heads from bodies. Archaeologists have to be careful in their interpretations, however, because humans process their dead in many ways; not all slice or hack marks indicate cannibalism.

Age Europe. Even Europe's earliest hom-inid site has yielded convincing evidence of cannibalism.

Early European Cannibals

THE MOST IMPORTANT paleoan-thropological site in Europe lies in northern Spain, in the foothills of the Sierra de Atapuerca. The oldest known section so far is the Gran Dolina, currently under excavation. The team working there has recovered evidence of occupation some 800,000 years ago by what may prove to be a new species of human ancestor, H. antecessor. The hominid bones were discovered in one horizon of the cave's sediment, intermingled with stone tools and the remains of prehistoric game animals such as deer, bison and rhinoceros. The hom-inid remains consist of 92 fragments from six individuals. They bear unmistakable traces of butchery with stone tools, including the skinning and removal of flesh and the processing of the braincase and the long bones for marrow. This pattern of butchery matches that seen on the nearby animal bones, providing the earliest evidence of homi-nid cannibalism.

Cannibalism among Europe's much younger Neandertals—who lived between 35,000 and 150,000 years ago— has been debated since the late 1800s, when the great Croatian paleoanthropol-ogist Dragutin Gorjanovic-Kramberger found the broken, cut-marked and scattered remains of more than 20 Neander-tals entombed in the sands of the Krapina rock-shelter. Unfortunately, these soft fossil bones were roughly extracted (by today's standards) and then covered with thick layers of preservative, which obscured evidence of processing and made interpretation exceedingly difficult. Some workers believe that the Krapina bones show clear signs of cannibalism; others have attributed the patterns of damage to rocks falling from the cave's ceiling, to carnivore chewing or to some form of burial. But recent analysis of the bones from Krapina and from another Croatian cave, Vindija—which has younger Neandertal and animal remains—indicates that cannibalism was practiced at both sites.

In the past few years, yet another site has offered evidence. On the banks of the Rhône River in southeastern France, Alban Defleur of the University of the Mediterranean at Marseilles has been excavating the cave of Moula-Guercy for more than a decade. Neandertals occupied this small cave 100,000 years ago. In one layer the team unearthed the remains of at least six Neandertals, ranging in age from six years to adult. De-fleur's meticulous excavation and recovery standards have yielded data every bit the equivalent of a modern forensic crime scene investigation. Each fragment of fauna and Neandertal bone, each macrobotanical clue, each stone tool has been precisely plotted three-dimension-ally. This care has allowed an understanding of how the bones were spread around a hearth that has been cold for 1,000 centuries.

Microscopic analysis of the Neandertal bone fragments and the faunal remains has led to the same conclusion that Spanish workers at the Gran Dolina site have drawn: cannibalism was practiced by some Paleolithic Europeans. Determining how often it was practiced and under what conditions represents a far more difficult challenge. Nevertheless, the frequency is striking. We know of just one very early European site with hominid remains, and those were cannibalized. The two Croatian Neandertal sites are separated by hundreds of generations, yet analyses suggest that cannibalism was practiced at both. And recently a Neandertal site in France was shown to support the same interpretation. These findings are built on exacting standards of evidence. Because of this, most paleoanthropologists these days are asking, "Why cannibalism?" rather than "Was this cannibalism?"

Similarly, discoveries at much younger sites in the American Southwest have altered the way anthropologists think of Anasazi culture in this area. Corn agriculturists have inhabited the Four Corners region for centuries, building their pueblos and spectacular cliff dwellings and leaving one of the richest and most fine-grained archaeological records on earth. Christy G. Turner II of

0 0

Post a comment