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Engis Preparation damage not ancient cutmarks.

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Engis: Preparation Damage, Not Ancient Cutmarks
Department of Anthropology, The University of CaliforniG
Berkeley, California 94720 (TD. W);Department of Anthropology, Indiana
University, Bloomington, Indiana 47405 (N.
Neandertal, Mousterian, Taphonomy
Scratches found on the Engis 2 cranium have been described
as perimortem and interpreted as intentional scalping marks by Russell and
LeMort (Am. J. Phys. Anthropol. 69:317-323,1986). These marks are described
and compared to damage on other fossil hominids. The Engis marks have been
misinterpreted. These marks are sandpaper striae formed during restoration
of the vault, moulding striae formed when mold part lines were incised into
the fossil and profiling striae formed when craniograms were made with sharp
steel instrument tips. None of them have anything to do with prehistoric
The discovery of cutmarks on the Bod0 cranium in 1981 (White, 1986)prompted several
investigators to focus on the fossil hominid
record in efforts to see what patterns of perimortem damage could be discerned. One of
the first specimens to be examined was the
child’s cranium from Engis. This specimen,
found in 1829, has been described as a Neandertal. Mary Russell and Franqoise LeMort
(1986) in an article entitled “Cutmarks on
the Engis 2 Calvaria?” published their Engis
observations and interpretations before the
Bod0 cutmarks were described. We have examined the original Engis 2 specimen as part
of a wider study of trauma to fossil hominid
remains. Our conclusions on Engis 2 differ
from those of Russell and LeMort.
Russell and LeMort (1986) illustrate
scratches on the Engis 2 cranium by means
of close-up photographs and drawings. Descriptions of these scratches are also provided. Two basic kinds of marks are
described-scratch fields concentrated around
the broken edges of the specimen and subparallel striae that sagittally divide the frontal.
Russell and LeMort draw three major conclusions about these scratches. First, they consider the striations to be ancient. Second,
since bone remodeling is not present, they
consider the marks to be perimortem. Third,
they conclude: “Deliberate hominid activity
seems to us to be the most conservative explanation for these striations . . .” (p. 321).
6 1 1989 ALAN R LISS, INC.
As indicated by the interrogative nature of
their title, Russell and LeMort present their
conclusions as “hypothesis” and go on to recommend scanning electron microscopic analysis of the scratches while hinting that this
is not possible because of preservative cover.
Their interpretation of scratches on the Engis 2 cranial vault is summarized as follows:
“In summary, it seems likely that the frontal
squama of Engis 2 was repeatedly scored
with a stone tool at or near the time of the
child’s death. Striations on other parts of the
calvaria are more enigmatic . . . . The striations make little sense in any functional
interpretation of the cutting” (Russell and
LeMort, 1986: p. 323).
It is our conclusion that the human(s) responsible for the Engis scratches were modern workers rather than Paleolithic scalpers.
We have come to this conclusion based on
examination of damage to a worldwide sample of hominid fossils. In many cases, this
damage is extensive and severe, most often
resulting from cleaning, restoration, measurement, and molding. A summary of our
findings is in preparation (Toth and White,
in preparation). Russell and LeMort’s 1986
misidentification of the Engis marks as evidence of prehistoric behavior has prompted
this more directed response. It is a response
designed to highlight some of the pitfalls asReceived March 21, 1988; accepted May 15,1988.
Fig. 1. A Frontal view of horizontal (left supraorbital) and parasagittal striae on the Engis child‘s frontal
bone made by molding and sagittal profiling (craniograph production) as described in the text. B: Basal view
of the Engis child’s nuchal plane. Rear half of the foramen magnum is on top. Note the fine subparallel striae
along the midline caused by the profiling tool. C: Photo-
graph of the Engis child’s cranium mounted, for craniograph production, in the holder described in the text.
The photo is from archives in the Department of Anthropology at the Royal Institute of Natural Sciences of Belgium, Brussels. It was taken in 1951, before the specimen
was separated from the Spy fossils and moved to LiBge.
Fig.2. A Close-up photograph of the frontal of the
adult specimen from Engis (Engis 1).Note the vertical
sagittal striation on the frontal squama, above and centered between the supraorbital eminences. This striation, like the ones on the child's cranium, was caused by
craniograph production. Such scratches are common on
subfossil Neandertal and Upper Paleolithic hominid
crania. B: Close-up photograph of plaster filling and
subsequent sanding on a Neandertal cranium from Spy
(Spy D. The sagittal suture is horizontal and leads off to
the viewer's right; the coronal suture is vertical. The
patch of plaster is at bregma and bears striations caused
by sanding. The sanding striations continue onto the
adjacent bone surface as they did on the Engis 2 specimen before the plaster was removed.
Fig. 3. A Close-up photograph of profiling marks on
the Engis 2 child’s frontal. Note the superficial nature
of the striae. Note also the “chattermarks” just to the
left of frame center made by the tip of the profiling
device. B: Sanding striations on the left frontal of the
Engis child’s cranium. C: Striations on the endocranial
surface of the Engis child’s left frontal not mentioned by
Russell and LeMort.
Fig. 4. A Frontal view of the Engis child’s cranium.
Placement of the three SEM images is shown by white
rectangles. B: SEM view of sanding striae on the right
supraorbital region. Note the V-shaped course of the
striae to the left, showing the movement of sanding
particles at the end of a sanding stroke. C: SEM view of
sanding striae on along the broken edge of the left frontal. D SEM view of sanding striae on the supraorbital
region to the left of nasion. Note again the V-shaped,
“doubling back” course of the striae.
that concentrate around the broken edges of
the Engis 2 cranium have, according to Russell and LeMort “. . . no obvious functional
or anatomical meaning” (p. 322). We have
not encountered such marks on recent huANALYSIS
man material (post-1000BC) but have identiWe agree with Russell and LeMort (1986) fied them on fossil material we have studied
that there is no bony healing associated with (see below).
We interpret the parasagittal marks,
the Engis scratches and that the scratch pattern and dimensions indicate human in- patches of scratches, and other striae on the
volvement in their manufacture. We have Engis 2 cranium to represent three human
studied experimental cutmarks on fresh activities. Before identifying these, however,
bones from a variety of mammalian taxa, it is first necessary to add several observaincluding humans. We have also examined tions to those made by Russell and LeMort
hundreds of archaeologically derived human (1986).The long linear striae on the Engis 2
crania with cutmarks made by stone tools. vault are uniformly superficial and do not
The linear, subparallel scratches on the En- resemble typical archaeological or experigis 2 frontal superficially resemble cutmarks mental cutmarks made by stone tools (see
such as those seen on Melanesian, Anasazi, Fig. 3A). Russell and LeMort describe exfoland Aztec crania. The patches of scratches iation of the bone table but do not indicate
sociated with the analysis of scratches on
fossil bone and thereby prevent “cutmark
mania” (Lewin, 1981) from claiming more
modern victims.
that much of the Engis 2 ectocranial surface
is invested with a thin skin of partially exfoliated, white bone (Fig. 3A). Thus not all striae
are the same color as the surrounding bone,
as maintained by Russell and LeMort; those
on this thin, light-colored layer of partially
exfoliated bone have revealed darker bone
below (see Russell and LeMort, Plates 3 and
4; this paper, Figs. 1A and 3A).
Russell and LeMort dismiss the possibility
that the Engis 2 striations represent postexcavation damage, implying that postexcavation scratches have a “clean, white, unweathered” appearance. These characteristics, however, vary widely according to the
handling and preservative application that a
specimen undergoes during its curated lifetime. The Engis 2 striations are described as
antedating “weathering” cracks, “abrasion”
on the frontal, and breakage of the vault
because they cross these features. We describe below a set of postexcavation mechanisms that account for these observations.
Russell and LeMort (1986) do not comment
on much of the damage to the Engis 2 specimen. For example, they do not describe or
illustrate dense parallel and subparallel
striae in the left orbital roof, the left lateral
frontal edge (Fig. 4A, C), the broken edge of
the left parietal, the area around the right
occipital condyle, and the right temporal
squama. In the patches they describe, they
do not note that individual striae in the
scratch patches sometimes end in loops showing that the striation-causing particle doubled back at the end of a stroke (Fig. 4A, D).
A more important omission involves a set of
subparallel, sagittal striae that mark the external occipital surface from the foramen
magnum posteriorly for an average of 17 mm
(Fig. 1B). One scratch extends to the nuchal
line. No reference is made to the “chattermarks” associated with the frontal striae
(Fig. 3A). Finally, Russell and LeMort neither describe nor illustrate the endocranial
surface where there are two major sets of
long striae on the frontal and another set of
striae on the left parietal. There are also
scratch patches endocranially, most notably
on the left frontal (Fig. 3C).
Cranwgraph damage
The sagittally oriented marks noted by
Russell and LeMort on the Engis 2 frontal
and documented above on the occipital are
found in numerous fossil hominid crania.
Rather than indicating a systematic prehistoric sagittal scalping activity, however, they
correspond to what has been a much more
widespread activity-the production of craniographs by mounting the cranium in a
holder (“Kubuskraniophor mit einem Arm”)
and tracing its outline with a sharp metal
point or diagraph. As described by Martin
(1914:p. 575; translation and italics ours):
The technique is as follows: First
draw the median sagittal. Set the
needle point of the diagraph on a
point on this plane, for example, the
nasion. . . . Next guide the diagraph-preferably
from left to
right-slowly along the skull by
holding the footplate with both
hands and watching the needle
closely. The point should only just
touch, not scratch, the skull surface,
and should always be directed at the
surface radially, i.e. as much as possible perpendicular to the skull wall.
The technique described by Martin was apparently not followed during cranial profiling on the Engis child, where the surface was
repeatedly scratched. Multiple attempts at
midsagittal profiling appear to have been
made. The resulting multiple subparallel
scratches appear to have been caused as the
cranium was repeatedly repositioned in an
attempt to bring nasion and bregma into the
same horizontal plane as determined by the
needle point (Fig. 1A). Midline striae on the
nuchal plane described above also were made
by a profiling point (Fig. 1B). Fraipont presents the resulting midsagittal craniograms
in his 1936 monograph on Engis. In addition,
there are photographs archived in Brussels,
taken in 1951, that actually show the Engis
2 cranium in a Kubuskraniophor (Fig. 1C).
This, of course, is not proof that craniograph
production caused the parasagittal scratches
on Engis 2. However, given the patterning,
the superficial nature of the marks, the associated chattermarks, and the presence of
midline striae on the nuchal plane, this possibility deserves consideration. The adult
cranium from Engis (Engis 1) also shows
midsagittal profiling damage (Fig. 2A) as do
both the Spy I and I1 crania. It is likely that
the silbparallel striae that vertically traverse the Engis 2 frontal represent an unfortunately common damage pattern on fossil
crania that has nothing to do with prehistoric activity.
Sanding damage
Russell and LeMort (1986)describe patches
of scratches, which they note on the Engis 2
specimen as “enigmatic” and “puzzling.” Explanation of these marks is straightforward
but requires consultation with Fraipont’s
1936 monograph on the specimen. It is clear
from the plates in this publication that the
specimen was stabilized by restoring the
missing vault sections with plaster or a plaster-wax mixture. Sandpaper was apparently
used to smooth the restoration material between the broken vault edges to make it conform to the vault contours. Sanding overlapped onto the adjacent bone, creating
striae, or patches of scratches at this time.
Sandpaper striae are clearly visible in Fraipont’s 1936 published photographs of the
specimen (his Plates 1 and 2)-photographs
taken before the plaster was removed. The
plaster was ultimately removed, but the
scratches remained. This kind of scratching
is evident on other similarly restored specimens. The Spy I and I1 Neandertal crania,
housed in Brussels with the Engis 2 cranium
for decades, are good examples of this phenomenon. Sections of plaster restoration still
remain on the Spy crania. These sections
bear sanding scratches that overlap onto the
adjacent fossil bone, creating scratch patches
on the bone itself (Fig. 2B).
Molding damage
The Engis 2 cranium has been molded for
casting at least twice since its recovery. The
first molding was a n extremely complex affair, documented by photographs in the Anthropology Department of the Institut Royal
des Sciences Naturelles de Belgique. In addition, at least one more recent mold has
been made that now resides in Liege. Formation of a part line between mold portions
and the subsequent removal of the two opposing mold halves has often been accomplished
by technicians using sharp metal tools, sometimes scalpels. Some of the scratches noted
by Russell and LeMort correspond to such
molding damage. These include the longer
endocranial striae and probably the horizontal scratches encircling the vault. Such damage is very common in Neandertal fossils
(Toth and White, in preparation).
The striae that Russell and LeMort (1986)
describe on the Engis 2 cranium and attribute to prehistoric hands are damage patterns
too common among fossil hominids. These
damage patterns are postfossilization and
postexcavation. They stem from sandpaper
striae formed during restoration of the vault
(Figs. 3 and 4), molding striae formed when
mold part lines were incised into the fossil,
and profiling striae formed when craniograms were made with sharp steel instrument tips (Figs. 1 and 2). None of the marks
have anything to do with prehistoric behavior.
Russell and LeMort tabulate European fossil hominid crania reported by LeMort (1981)
as bearing incised striations. They choose the
Krapina “A” specimen as a n example, noting that it 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”
(1986: p. 319). Paracoronal craniograph production is responsible for these scratches, just
as it is for the ones found on the Steinheim
Patterns of striations certainly do exist on
fossil hominid crania, and these patterns relate clearly to human behavior. Engis 2, however, demonstrates that not every scratch
was made by the edge of a Paleolithic tool.
Those that were not threaten to create a false
view of Paleolithic mortuary practices.
Thanks are extended to the Harry Frank
Guggenheim Foundation for making our
work on trauma to hominid fossils possible;
and to J.-M. Cordy, who made it possible to
study the Engis specimens; and to A. Leguebe, for permission to study the Spy material. We are extremely grateful to Prof. J. de
Heinzelin for the photograph from I.R.S.N.B.
archives, and for discussion, encouragement,
and patience. Four unnamed reviewers provided incisive, helpful comments. The photographs were printed by David Symonik, and
the translations were provided by Larissa
Smith of the Institute of Human Origins.
Fraipont C (1936) Les hommes fossiles dEngis. Arch
Inst. Paleont. Hum. 16t1-52.
LeMort F (1981) IJegradations artificirlles stir d c ~os
humains du Palbolithique. PhD Thwis, Dcpt. of Vert+
brate Paleo. and Hum. Paleo., L’Universite Pierre et
Marie Curie, Paris.
Lewin R (1981) Protohuman activity etched in fossil
bones. Science 213:123-124.
Martin R (1914) Lehrbuch der Anthropologie. Jena: Gustav Fischer.
Russell MD, and LeMort F (1986)Cutmarks on the Engis
2 calvaria? Am. J. Phys. Anthropol. 69~317-323.
Toth N, and White TD (in preparation) Modern trauma
to hominid fossils: Chipping, probing, grinding, peeling and slicing away at our heritage.
White TD (1986) Cutmarks on the Bod0 cranium: A case
of prehistoric defleshing. Am. J. Phys. Anthropol.
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preparation, engis, damage, cutmarks, ancient
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