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Bone breakage in the Krapina hominid collection.

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Bone Breakage in the Krapina Hominid Collection
Department of Anthropology, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland
Ohio 44106
Krapina, Neandertals, Cannibalism, Taphonomy
The fragmentary condition of the Krapina Neandertal remains has been offered as one line of evidence for the hypothesis that these
hominids were the victims of cannibals seeking marrow and brains. Two other
hypotheses regarding the causes of the framentation have been raised: 1) a
substantial portion of the breakage in the Krapina collection is attributable to
excavation damage; and 2) the rest of the breakage is attributable to sedimentary pressure and to natural rock falls that occurred during the site’s prehistory. The purpose of this paper is report on tests of these three hypotheses
concerning the cause of breakage in the Krapina material. Microscopic inspection of all Krapina hominid specimens showed that 23% of the material was
inadvertantly broken during excavation or during quarrying that took place
a t the end of the last century. The morphology of the prehistoric breakage is
inconsistent with the cannibalism hypothesis and supports the hypothesis that
prehistoric breakage was caused by sedimentary pressure andor roof falls.
The Husfijakovo rock shelter, near the
Croatian town of Krapina, was excavated between 1899 and 1905 by D. GorjanoviC-Kramberger (GorjanoviC-Kramberger, 1899, 1906).
Forty-three hominid adults and adolescents
as well a s several juveniles (Trinkaus, 1985)
are represented at Krapina by over 650 hominid bone specimens. Nearly twice as many
individuals are represented by 282 teeth,
either isolated or preserved in jaws (Wolpoff,
Current estimates date the bulk of the
hominid sample to the last interglacial and
the early last glacial, although some specimens may be later (Malez, 1970a,b). Middle
Paleolithic tools were associated with the
hominid remains GorjanoviC-Kramberger,
1913; Malez, 1970~).The Krapina hominids
are commonly considered a sample of a n archaic European population of Homo sapiens
informally known as Neandertals (Campbell,
1964; Brace, 1962, 1964; Smith, 1976; Day,
1977; Wolpoff, 1979, 1980; Trinkaus, 1975,
1983, 1985).
The external surfaces of Pleistocene bone
from Krapina are often well preserved and
intact, but most specimens are very fragmentary. The relatively complete hominid vaults
(crania A, B, C, and E) are reconstructed
from scores of small pieces. All the crania
:.i 1987 ALAN R. LISS, INC.
lack bases, and all but C lack faces. Of the
hundreds of hominid bone specimens from
Krapina, only the smaller bones such as vertebrae, metacarpals, and phalanges are unbroken. Most limb bone shafts are broken
cross-sectionally, and the larger limb bone
diaphyses are split longitudinally as well.
Traditionally, the fragmentary condition of
the Krapina bones has been explained as
deliberate damage caused by cannibals seeking brains and marrow (GorjanoviC-Kramberger, 1906, 1909a,b; Klaatsch, 1923; Keith,
1928; HrdliEka, 1930; Skerlj, 1939; Courville,
1958; OiegoviC, 1958; Vallois, 1961; Howell,
1965; Roper, 1969; TomiC-KaroviC, 1970;
Smith, 1976; Ullrich, 1978; Burian and Wolf,
1978; Campbell, 1982; Wymer, 1982). Longitudinally split diaphyses with spiral or
oblique fracture lines like those observed
among the Krapina femora and tibiae have
often been considered evidence of hominid
marrow extraction techniques (GorjanoviCKramberger, 1906,1909b;Breuil, 1938,1939;
Weidenreich, 1941; Dart, 1960; Howell, 1965;
Bonnichsen, 1973, 1979). Further, the fact
that Krapina diaphyses with relatively small
Received April 4, 1986; revision accepted September 10, 1986.
diameters (fibulae, ulnae, radii,etc.) are not
longitudinally split has been used to argue
that the cannibals chose to exploit only the
bones that would yield the largest amount of
marrow (Leroi-Gourhan, 1976).
The hypothesis that cannibals were responsible for the fragmentation of the Krapina
hominid remains has been questioned but
not systematically tested. For example, it has
been speculated that a substantial portion of
the damage to the Krapina material may be
attributable to the use of dynamite during
excavation (Brace, 1957; Coon, 1963; Trinkaus, 1985) and to the use of large tools for
clearing overburden (Trinkaus, 19851, although the specimens considered most likely
to have sustained modern damage were not
Genuine prehistoric breakage has been attributed to sedimentary pressure and/or to
natural rockfalls that occurred several times
during the cave’s prehistory (Trinkaus, 1985).
Trinkaus (1985) noted that the pattern of
fractures seen in the Krapina collection resembles that seen in Neandertal burials that
were crushed in situ by sediment weight (e.g.,
Shanidar 1, 4,5, and 6 (Trinkaus, 1983) and
Tabun C1 (McCown and Keith, 1939). That
is, femora and tibiae are fragmented, while
arm bones and fibulae are generally well
preserved. Trinkaus reasoned that femora
and tibiae have large diameters and are
therefore more likely to collapse under transverse sedimentary pressure, whereas ulnae,
radii, and fibulae have small diameters and
relatively thick cortical bone, which makes
them more resistant to crushing.
Furthermore, it been repeatedly demonstrated that oblique fractures and diaphyseal
splitting are not diagnostic of human marrow extraction techniques and are in fact
commonly produced by many nonhuman taphonomic agents (De Mortillet, 1900; Martin,
1907-1910; Pei, 1938; Zapfe, 1939; Feustel,
1969, 1970; Hill, 1976, 1980; Shipman and
Phillips-Conroy, 1977; Binford, 1978, 1981).
Spiral or oblique fracturing will occur whenever a relatively green bone breaks
(Bonnichsen, 1973, 1979; Binford 1978); diaphyses subjected to transverse pressure of
any kind tend to rupture longitudinally, as
the fracture follows the orientation of haversian systems and collagen fiber bundles
(Trinkaus, 1985). In contrast, marrow extraction by hominids is most convincingly demonstrated by evidence of hammer blows: that
is, by radial or conchoidal fractures of long
bone shafts (GorjanoviC-Kramberger, 1909b;
Martin, 1909; Sadek-Kooros, 1972,1975; NoeNygaard, 1977; LeMort, 1981; Binford, 1981;
Bunn, 1981).
The purpose of this paper is to report on a
test of the hypothesis that the fragmentation
of the Krapina hominid material was caused
by hominid cannibals, presumably during the
extraction of marrow and other soft tissues.
The rival hypotheses were also tested. These
hypotheses were 1)the breakage a t Krapina
was inadvertantly caused by the actions of
modern workers and 2) genuine prehistoric
breakage was caused by nonhuman taphonomic agents, specifically rock falls and sedimentary pressure. A brief review of the
modern history of the Krapina hominid collection will be provided, followed by a report
on the results of a microscopic examination
of all hominid cranial and postcranial specimens for evidence of modern damage and of
prehistoric breakage attributable to hominid
marrow extraction.
The Husnjakovo site served the town of
Krapina as a sand quarry for many years
before its importance as a hominid fossil site
was suspected (BariC, 1978) [RadovEid, pers.
comm.]. Photographs dating to the late 19th
century show the hillside denuded of trees,
with the cave mouth widened by quarrying
and tailings from that activity spilling down
the hill face (Archives of the Geolosko-Paleontologki Musej, Zagreb; BariC, 1978).
Dragutin GorjanoviC-Kramberger, at the
GoeloSko-Paleontoloski Muzej of Zagreb, was
first made aware of the paleontological site
in 1895 when a local school teacher sent him
a package of “unusual bones” from the sand
quarry. GorjanoviC-Kramberger identified
the bones as fossil mammals and wrote in his
1895 field notebook’ that “Diluvial” fauna2
had been located near the town of Krapina.
GorjanoviC-Kramberger was at that time en-
’Gorjanovit-Kramherger’s field notebooks are available for inspection a t the GeoloSko-PaleontoloSki Muzej, Demetrova Ulica
1,41000 Zagreb, Yugoslavia.
‘It should he noted that in 1895, the term “Pleistocene” had
not yet been coined. It is clear from Gorjanovic-Kramberger’s
many publications that the term “Diluvial” was used in the
broad sense of “ancient.” Gorjanovit-Kramherger was an e x p e ~
rienced and competent geologist, trained by Karl Zittle a t the
University of Munich. The Pleistocene maps Gorjanovit-Kramberger prepared a t the turn of the century are accurate and are
still in use today. From this, it is obvious that he understood
geology within a thoroughly modern paradigm, despite his use
of now outmoded stratigraphic terms.
gaged in writing up a variety of papers on
fossil fish and mammals, as well as on the
geology of the region near Zagreb. Thus, 4
years passed before he actually visited the
Krapina site, during which time quarrying
continued (Baric, 1978).
GorjanoviC-Kramberger first visited the
Krapina site on August 23, 1899. Quarrying
had laid open the stratigraphy of the rock
shelter, and GorjanoviC-Kramberger found a
large human molar almost a t once. That
afternoon, he identified nine stratigraphic
levels, including three that contained stone
tools as well as abundant hominid and faunal
remains. GorjanoviC-Kramberger went to the
mayor of Krapina that same day to request
that all further use of the quarry be stopped.
This was done. Excavation of the site began
on September 2, 1899 (GorjanoviC-Kramberger, 1906).
One of the first tasks to be carried out
before excavation could be undertaken was
the removal of a dangerously unstable rock
outcropping partially roofing over the site
1970a). For his crew’s safety, GorjanovicKramberger had the outcropping dynamited.
Photographs of the site taken afterward show
local laborers using picks, shovels, and
wheelbarrows to clear overburden (Archives
of the GeoloSko-PaleontoloSkiMuzej, Zagreb).
Overlying the Homo Zonus (level 4) from
which most of the hominid material was recovered, there was a meter-thick sterile layer
of large sandstone blocks and debris (GorjanoviC-Kramberger, 1906).This rock fall dates
to the beginning of the last glacial era (Malez,
1970a, 1978).Similar layers of large boulders
can be seen today a t other nearby cave sites,
such as Velika Peirina and Vindija. During
the excavation at Krapina, dynamite was
used to break up some of the sandstone and
conglomerate blocks from these earlier, natural roof falls (Gorjanovit-Kramberger, 1906).
This debris was also cleared from the site by
laborers using large tools and wheelbarrows.
(geological)processes according to criteria described below.
To separate evidence of ancient hominid
activities that led to fragmentation from
breakage caused by nonhuman taphonomic
agents, all Krapina hominid material was
inspected under a light microscope for evidence of the kind of hammer blows considered diagnostic of human marrow extraction
techniques (GorjanoviC-Kramberger, 1909b;
Martin, 1909; Sadek-Kooros, 1972,1975; NoeNygaard, 1977; LeMort, 1981; Binford, 1981;
Bunn, 1981) and of blows to the skull for
brain extraction (Clark, n.d.). Such blows
produce broad thin spalls with platforms
bounded by arcuate fissure lines behind the
point of impact.
A specimen was considered to have been
broken by modern humans during quarrying
or excavation if its broken edges appeared
under magnification to be clean, sharp, unweathered and free of matrix. Often new
breaks are lighter in color than old ones, and
this was also considered. Specimens meeting
the criteria for recent damage were listed by
number and tallied. This tally may be considered conservative. It does not include any
specimen having apparently recent and clean
but glued breaks, since those surfaces could
not be examined microscopically. If there was
any doubt about the recency of a break, the
specimen was not included in the tally.
Breakage showing neither clean, sharp
matrix-free features nor evidence of hammer
blows was attributed to geologic and other
nonhominid agents.
Reliability of observations was checked by
repeating the microscopic inspection of the
collection after a 1month interval. One specimen was removed from the list of specimens
with modern breakage, and five were added.
No changes were made in the observation of
hammer blows for marrow extraction. Thus,
observations were consistent for 99.1% of the
Table 1 lists the specimens identified as
having sustained modern damage using the
criteria described above. Of the 669 individual fragments and reconstructed hominid
specimens, 151 or 23% of the Krapina hominid collection show visible evidence of recent
breakage. Of 239 cranial vault fragments,
20% had fresh breaks. Eighteen percent of
the 28 mandibular pieces sustained modern
damage. Twenty-four percent of the 397 post-
All broken edges of all hominid cranial and
postcranial specimens in the Krapina collection were examined under a light microscope
a t x 10 to x 40 magnification. For this analysis, a glued specimen was counted as a single specimen even if it was constructed of
two or more separately numbered specimens.
Observed damage was attributed to ancient
hominids, modern humans, or nonhominid
TABLE 1. Hominid specimens with visible edges broken during quarrying or
excavation at Kraoina. Manv o f these swecimens also disolav orehistoric breaks
Bone category
Parietal fragments
Temporal fragments
Occipital fragments
Misc. Cranial fragments
Mandibular fragments
Hand phalanges
Large shaft fragments
(tibia1 or femoral)
Anterior tarsals
Pedal uhalanees
Specimens with fresh breakage
Cranium A: parietal fragments 1, 34.9
Cranium C: occipital fragments 13, 18
7, 18.1,18.4, 18.9, 18.14, 18.18,
33.1, 33.4, 34.5, 34.6, 34.11, and
5 unnumbered fragments
38.14, 38.17, 39.40, and 2 unnumbered
6 unnumbered fragments
21 unnumbered fragments
65,69,72,73, and 1 unnumbered
105, 111.2, 114.6, 116.5, 1 1 6 . 2 ~ ~
(spec. number obscured)
117.2. 118.3. 118.4. 119.
120.4. 120.9. 120.10. 120.13. 120.14.
120.23, 120.24, 120.26, 120.30, 120.31,
120.32, 120.34, 120.35, 120.36, 120.38,
120.41, 120.42 plus 4 unnumbered
145, 156, 157
121, 122, 123, 126, 130, 131, 132, 133,
135, 136,137, 138, 139,140
161, 162, 166, 167, 169, 171, 257.25
185, 186,188
190, 191,192, 194,195, 196,198, 199
204.3. 205.26
255.1; 255.5, 255.6
214, 257.23, 257.24
257.16, 257.19, 257.22, 257.27, 257.28
257.5, 257.7, 257.8, 257.11, 257.12,
257.14, 257.29130
cranial specimens shows evidence of recent scalloped edges, conical pitting, and short
transverse gashes characteristically proTable 2 summarizes the percentages of each duced by carnivores gnawing on long bone
bone class broken during quarrying or exca- shafts (Hill, 1976, 1980; Binford, 1978, 1981).
vation. It can be seen from this table that the In addition, i t should be noted that one specbones most vulnerable to dry-bone breakage imen, distal humerus 178, was sawn into anwere scapulae (74%), radii (66%), large shaft terior and posterior halves by Gorjanovicfragments (57%),ribs and fibulae (both 50%). Kramberger for analysis of the bone’s inteSmall bones such as phalanges, tarsals, pa- rior [J.RadoviEiC, pers. comm.].
Microscopic inspection of longitudinally
tellae, and vertebrae were least likely to have
been broken by quarriers or excavators a t split and spirally fractured hominid femora
and tibiae in the Krapina collection failed to
this site.
Two specimens deserve special attention. reveal any evidence of the kind of impact
Radius 189 and tibia 217 have both been fractures characteristic of human marrow
described a s bearing extensive evidence of extraction activities. This tends to disprove
cannibalistic butchery and marrow extrac- the hypothesis that hominids were responsition activities (Ullrich, 1978).These two spec- ble for the fragmentation of the Krapina
imens are diaphyseal splinters having the hominid specimens. Prehistoric breakage in
the Krapina hominid collection is consistent human activities or to nonhuman prehistoric
with fragmentation by nonhuman, primarily taphonomic agents, were upheld by microscopic examination of the bones. The very
geological taphonomic agents.
fragmentary condition of the Krapina homiCONCLUSIONS
nid material is not surprising in view of three
The results of the thorough microscopic ex- facts. First, the bulk of the hominid material
amination of all the Krapina hominid speci- was subjected to 50,000 to 100,000 years of
mens confirm conclusions reached by other sedimentary pressure before excavation. Secworkers based on gross examinations of dia- ond, the Homo Zonus was pounded repeatphyseal fragments (Gorjanovid-Kramberger, edly by natural rock falls a t the beginning of
1909b; Trinkaus, 1985): no evidence of ham- the last glacial era. Third, nearly one-fourth
mer blows associated with marrow extrac- of the Krapina hominid specimens were brotion has ever been found on any Krapina ken during quarrying or excavation.
hominid specimen. The hypothesis that bone
breakage at Krapina is attributable to cannibals extracting brains or marrow is unsupThis research was supported by a grant
ported. Breakage patterns are, of course, only from the International Research and Exone of several types of archeological and/or changes Board, New York, and by the Savtaphonomic evidence that could support can- ezni Zavod za Medjunarodnu NauEnu,
nibalism hypotheses (Russell et al., 1985; Prosvetno-Kulturnu i TekniEku Saradju
Villa et al., 1986). Other tests of the Krapina (Federal Administration for International
cannibalism hypothesis, including a detailed Scientific, Educational, Cultural and Techstudy of the possible cutmarks on the Kra- nical Cooperation), Beograd. My thanks go
pina material, have been conducted and will the staff of the Geolosko-Paleontoloski Mwej
be reported separately (Russell, this volume). of Zagreb, Yugoslavia, for their friendship,
The rival hypotheses, that bone breakage cooperation, and assistance. In particular, I
a t Krapina is attributable either to modern thank J. RadovEid, curator of the Krapina
TABLE 2. Percentage of hominid specimens in each bone category having visible edges
broken during auarrvine or excavation at Kraaina'
Bone category
Vault fragments
Mandibular fragments
Hand Phalanges
Large shaft fragments (femitib)
Anterior Tarsals
Pedal Phalanges
No. of
No. of specimens
with fresh breakage
Percent with
fresh breaks
'The number of specimens used as a basis for each percentage figure may differ slightly from
previously published counts. For this analysis, glued specimens were counted as one specimen even
if they were constructed of two or more separately numbered specimens.
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breakage, krapina, collection, bones, hominis
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