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Cutmarks on the Engis 2 calvaria.

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Cutmarks on the Engis 2 Calvaria?
Department of Oral Biology, School of Dentistry, Case Western Reserve
Uniuersity, Cleveland OH44121 USA (M.D.R.) and Laboratory of
Anthropology, University of Bordeaux I, Avenue des Facultks, 33405
Talence, France (F. L.)
Cutmarks, Neandertal, Taphonomy, Scalping
An examination of the surface morphology of the juvenile
Neandertal calvaria, Engis 2, has resulted in the discovery of several series of
incised striations. The purpose of this paper is to describe and discuss these
striations. A preliminary interpretation of at least some of the striations as
cutmarks, made at or near the time of the child's death, is offered.
Engis 2, a juvenile hominid associated with
Mousterian tools, was discovered by P-C.
Schmerling in 1829 near Liege, Belgium, in
the Engis caverns. The specimen consists of
a nearly complete skullcap, a portion of the
maxilla containing deciduous incisors and
canines and several isolated deciduous and
permanent molars. Although the child was
less than 6 years old at death, its skull shape
is similar to that of adult Neandertals. It is
long and low, with a protuberant occipital
bun. The maxilla lacks a canine fossa. Seen
from above, the vault is tear-drop shaped.
Seen from behind, it is circular. The child
has a delicate but definite supraorbital torus,
separated from the frontal squama by a slight
ophrionic groove.
In addition to Engis 2, Schmerling catalogued more than 60 species of extinct animals in the Engis caverns, including the
remains of two other hominids (Schmerling,
1833). Those individuals were later recognized as Aurignacian burials intruding into
the Mousterian level (Fraipont, 1936a,b).
Schmerling carefully documented the coexistence of the human fossils with the remains
of extinct quaternary animals, arguing
against the likelihood that the human remains were recent burials by showing that
the human and faunal remains were in an
identical state of preservation. In addition,
he correctly identified many stone objects
found with the human remains as tools. He
concluded that the human remains were deposited in the Engis caverns at the same
time and by the same means as were the
animal remains and corrrectly identified
these individuals as fossil humans in 1833.
0 1986 ALAN R. LISS, INC
Schmerling was, therefore, the first on record
to discover and recognize fossil forms of
His conclusions, however, were largely ignored (Brace and Montagu, 1965).Even after
general recognition of the Neandertals as
genuine representatives of an earlier human
population, Engis 2 provoked little interest.
The specimen was studied and described as a
juvenile Neandertal by Fraipont in 1936.
However, it appears that no reference has
ever been made to the enigmatic striations
on the skull's surface.
A recent examination of the surface of the
Engis 2 skullcap revealed that the child's
cranium has a number of circumscribed areas
of incised striations. The frontal bone has
several groups of multiple incisions (Fig. 1;
Plates 1-3). In the midline of the frontal bone,
there appear to be three groups of subparallel lines 1-2 cm long and running less than
a millimeter apart (Fig. 1A). It seems likely
that the lines were originally continuous 36-cm long striations. The three groups of lines
appear to be separate because two intervening regions of bone table are eroded (Plate 1).
The striations begin at the glabellar region
and fan out slightly, moving posteriorly toward the coronal suture, but do not continue
onto the parietal bones.
Over the left orbit, there are a number of
oblique subparallel lines about 1-cm long,
Received December 4, 1984; revised August 21, 1985; revision
accepted August 27,1985.
Fig. 1. Engis 2 calvaria, norma frontalis.
running parallel to the supero-medial margin of the orbit (Fig. 1B; Plate l).Cutting
across this patch of lines is a long, nearly
horizontal striation running from the left midorbit across glabella to the superomedial
margin of the right orbit. Also on the frontal
bone, on the right zygomatic process, there is
a region of incised cross-hatching (Fig. 1C;
Plate 2). This consists of two groups of centimeter long striations, with over 30 striations
in a group, incised a t right angles to each
In addition, there may be a small incised
polygon, with a short line intersecting it,
near midpoint of the coronal suture on the
right side of the frontal bone (Fig. 1D; Plate
3). It is not clear whether this is a humanly
applied leaf-shaped design or a naturally occurring surface phenomenon.
On the right side of the occipital bone, near
the lambdoidal suture, there are two groups
of 15 to 20 striations each (Fig. 2; Plate 4). In
the more anterior group, the striations radiate outward from a central region in a fanlike configuration. The lines are 2-4 cm long,
although many of them run off the broken
edges of the occipital fragments. The corresponding region of the left side of the skull is
preserved, but there are no striations on the
side. In fact, there is no indication of bilateral symmetry in any of the incised regions
of the calvaria, although in most cases the
contralateral bone region is preserved.
The European fossil hominid record includes many specimens marked with incised
striations similar in number, depth and
Plate 1.Top left.
Plate 2. Bottom left.
Plate 3. Right.
length, if not in placement, to those on Engis
2 (Table 1; see also LeMort, 1981, for detailed
descriptions). Many of the Neandertal remains from the Krapina site in Croatia bear
incised striations which have been described
as cutmarks (GorjanoviC-Kramberger 1906,
1909; TomiC-KaroviC, 1970; Smith, 1976; U11rich 1978; LeMort, 1981). Krapina A, for example, is another juvenile Neandertal
calvaria (Smith, 1976) which bears a large
number of long, finely incised striations, in
that case running roughly parallel to the coronal suture, passing from one squamosal suture to the other.
The hazards of interpreting incised striations on hominid bones in the absence of
Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) analysis have been pointed out by taphonomists
and others (Shipman, 1981a,b; Shipman and
Rose, 1983; Binford, 1981; Bunn, 1981; Potts,
1982; Potts and Shipman, 1981; Oliver, 1984).
SEM inspection, however, requires a scrupulously clean bone surface (Rose, 1983). Typically, fossil specimens recovered in the 19th
and most of the 20th century have been preserved with shellack. It is difficult to remove
shellack from subfossil bone safely, a fact
which precludes the use of SEM inspection of
many hominid fossil surfaces. Therefore,
some aspects of our interpretation of the Engis 2 striations must be considered preliminary until and unless i t is possible to clean
the specimen sufficiently to confirm or disprove them with SEM inspection.
Nevertheless, we believe there is good,
grossly visible evidence in support of the hypothesis that at least some of the described
striations on the Engis 2 calvaria are the
Fig. 2. Engis 2, right occipital and temporal region. FM = foramen magnum. M
result of deliberate and repeated scoring with
a stone tool a t or near the time of child's
death'. The evidence for this interpretation
First, the striations do not appear to be
recent; that is, they do not appear to be due
to damage that occurred during or after excavation. The striations are the same color
as the surrounding bone, rather than having
the clean, white, unweathered appearance of
fresh scratches cutting into a n old surface.
The striations are continuous across weathering cracks (Plates 1 and 3) and across the
glued edges of reconstructed fragments (Plate
4). Many of the striations on the occipital
bone run off the broken and weathered edge
Plate 4.
'It should be noted that there are some scattered scratches on
the specimen, not described in this paper, which are likely to be
random sedimentary damage.
Table 1. European fossil hominid crania reported to have incised striations
(see LeMort, 1981 for detailed anatomical descriptions)
Fontechevade 4
(formerly 1)
Krapina A
Krapina B
Krapina C
Krapina D
Krapina E
La Placard B
La Placard C
La Placard D
La Placard F
La Placard G
La Placard H
La Placard I
La Madelaine
Location of striations
Oblique-transverse striations above left supreciliary
Numerous long striations on frontal and parietals,
paralleling coronal suture
Short oblique striations over right inferior nuchal
line; oblique striations over right parietal boss
Short transverse striations in ladder-like
arrangement in midline of frontal squama
Several striations on right inferior frontal squama
Two striations in midsagittal plane of frontal
squama just above glabellar region
Large number of striations on right parietal and on
Large number of striations on frontal and on both
Large number of striations on frontal and on both
Several striations along the temporal line of left
Three parallel striations on left parietal and
temporal, crossing perpendicularly over squamosal
Large number of striations on both parietals
Several oblique striations on right parietal; several
striations on left parietal near and perpendicular to
sagittal suture
Large number of striations on frontal, both parietals
and occipital
Several striations on right parietal
Several striations on right parietal
of the bone fragments (Plate 4).There is apparently natural abrasion of the frontal
bone’s outer table, disrupting the continuity
of long striations down the center of the frontal squama (Plate 1). Thus, we believe that
the striations were made when the bone was
fresh, prior to weathering and breakage. If
the specimen’s surface can be sufficiently
cleaned, this interpretation is testable, using
recently developed SEM criteria for distinguishing cuts made immediately on fresh
bone from those made after weathering has
taken place (Russell et al., 1985, and work in
Second, because the striations appear to
the naked eye to be sharp and unremodeled,
we believe the marks are either post-mortem
or were made immediately prior to death,
before any healing could take place. This
conclusion can also be confirmed or denied
by SEM inspection.
Third, although cutmarks on bone can be
mimicked by vertebrate gnawing, by sedimentary abrasion, and by trampling (Shipman and Rose, 1983; Oliver, 1984),we believe
that the number, straightness, orderliness,
and length of the marks over the left orbit
and of those running down the center of the
frontal squama make these striations unlikely to be attributable to any kind of animal damage or to accidental, random scoring
by sharp-edged stones during rock slides or
roof-falls in the Engis caverns. Deliberate
hominid activity seems to us to be the most
conservative explanation for these striations,
but SEM confirmation would be desirable.
Interpretation of the other incised marks is
less straightforward and requires SEM inspection to rule out cutmark mimics. The
leaf-shaped polygon on the frontal squama
may be random root-etching although it does
appear grossly to be cut into the surface. The
numerous striations on the occipital bone and
the scratches on the right zygomatic process
of the frontal bone seem very unlikely to be
sedimentary scratches or the result of trampling. Neither do these striations grossly resemble any of the marks made by animals
scratching or gnawing on bone as described
by Shipman and Rose (1983). Until SEM inspection becomes possible, we offer as a theoretically testable hypothesis the suggestion
that these striations are cutmarks. Nevertheless, we find the apparently pointless rep-
etition of the occipital striations and the
cross-hatching on the zygomatic process of
the frontal bone puzzling.
We can state with some confidence that the
cranium was not defleshed. Although the face
is incomplete and the vault fragmented, some
important muscle attachment sites are preserved. There is no indication at these attachment sites that the child’s temporal
muscles or facial soft tissues were removed,
as might be expected if defleshing were the
goal of the activity.
The presumed cutmarks on the frontal bone
are in regions not associated with major muscle attachments. They are in areas covered
by the scalp and by the frontalis muscle or
the galea aponeurotica. Unlike defleshing,
scalping leaves cutmarks on areas of the
skull devoid of muscle attachments. Scalping, however, is most commonly described as
involving multiple encircling incisions, starting above one ear and running transversely
across the forehead to the other ear, with the
scalp subsequently slashed or pulled away
from the occipital bone without leaving any
striations on it (Herodotus, 450 BC; Friederici, 1906; Nadeau, 1941; Hamperl and Laughlin, 1959; Hamperl, 1967; Owsley and
Berryman, 1975; Owsley et al., 1977; McGrath, 1983). The cutmarks on Engis 2 do
not follow this pattern.
Methods of removing the scalp which do
not leave circular incisions have either been
observed ethnographically (Nadeau, 1941;
McGrath, 1983) or have been proposed as
anatomically possible (Bass and Phenice,
1975). For example, the early German historian, Adam von Bremen (c. 900 AD) tells of
the excision of a cross-shaped segment of
scalp from the heads of non-Christian slaves
(McGrath, 1983). A hypothetical style of
scalping, in which the scalp is hemisected
sagittally with a blade and then peeled down
the sides, has been proposed as the explanation for cutmarks near and running parallel
to the sagittal suture on prehistoric human
parietal bones from South Dakota (Bass and
Phenice, 1975).
Sagittal skinning of the head would appear
to spoil the scalp as a trophy, so it has been
suggested that when such a method is used,
the defleshed cranium itself may be the object of the activity (Villa et al., in press). For
example, it has been reported that several
crania from the Neolithic French site a t
Fontbregoua bear cutmarks running in the
sagittal plane (Villa et al., in press). Like
Engis 2, the sagittal striations on the Neolithic French crania are found low on the
frontal bone. The striations proceed posteriorly onto the parietal bones, as do the striations on the South Dakota specimen. The
Fontbregoua marks differ from those on Engis 2 in that they are accompanied by extensive skinning marks on the maxillae and
defleshing marks along the temporal lines.
It must be noted that Engis 2 differs from
both the Dakotan and French crania in that
the striations on the Engis 2 frontal bone do
not continue onto the parietal bones. Furthermore, the multiple striations on Engis
2’s frontal bone fan out somewhat, rather
than running in a tight sagittal grouping as
on the other crania. Nevertheless, we recognize that it is a t least anatomically possible
that the long striations on the frontal bone,
running subparallel to the sagittal plane,
could represent cuts made to hemisect the
anterior portion of the scalp. The striations
above the right orbit might represent secondary cuts, made as the scalp was pulled down
the sides of the skull. Once the scalp was
loosened in that manner, it might have been
peeled toward the back of the head, at which
time the marks on the right occipital may
have been made.
Even if some form of skinning or scalping
were tentatively accepted as a n explanation
for some of the striations on Engis 2, the
numerous densely cut cross-hatchings on the
right zygomatic process of the frontal bone
remain unaccounted for. They have no obvious functional or anatomical meaning. The
cross-hatching cannot be reproduced experimentally on cadaver crania using either
stone or steel blades unless the soft tissue
overlying the bone is first removed by other
means, suggesting that the cross-hatchings
a t least may have been made after the soft
tissues had either been removed or had rotted away naturally (Russell et al., 1983). In
any case, it is probably unjustified to assume
that a single taphonomic event was responsible for all the striations on the Engis 2
In summary, it seems likely that the frontal squama of Engis 2 was repeatedly scored
with a stone tool a t or near the time of the
child’s death. Striations on other parts of the
calvaria are more enigmatic but are not easily attributable to sedimentary scratching,
although it is possible that they are animal
damage. With the exception of the possibility
of the hypothetical scalping style raised
above, the striations make little sense in any
functional interpretation of the cutting. If
molds of all the Engis 2 striations can be
obtained for SEM analysis, we anticipate that
its taphonomic history will prove to be very
We thank Prof. G. Ubaghs and the staff of
the Laboratoire de Paleontologie Animale of
the University of LiBge, Liege, Belgium for
permission to study and photograph the Engis material. This research was supported by
the National Science Foundation (BNS8120078).
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