• St. Prest, France

  • A Modern Example: Old Crow River, Canada

  • Anza-Borrego Desert, California

  • Incised Bones from Italian Sites

  • Rhinoceros of Billy, France

  • Colline de Sansan, France

  • Pikermi, Greece

  • Pierced Shark Teeth from the Red Crag, England

  • Carved Bone from the Dardanelles, Turkey

  • Balaenotus of Monte Aperto, Italy

  • Halitherium of Pouance, France

  • San Valentino, Italy

  • Clermont-Ferrand, France

  • Carved Shell from the Red Crag, England

  • Bone Implements from Below the Red Crag, England

  • Dewlish Elephant Trench, England

  • Concluding Words About Intentionally Modified Bone


Intentionally cut and broken bones of animals comprise a substantial part of the evidence for human antiquity. They came under serious study in the middle of the nineteenth century and have remained the object of extensive research and analysis up to the present.

In the decades following the publication of Darwin's The Origin of Species, many scientists found incised and broken bones indicating a human presence in the Pliocene, Miocene, and earlier periods. Opponents suggested that the marks and breaks observed on the fossil bones were caused by the action of carnivores, sharks, or geological pressure. But supporters of the discoveries offered impressive counterarguments. For example, stone tools were sometimes found along with incised bones, and experiments with these implements produced marks on fresh bone exactly resembling those found on the fossils.


Scientists also employed microscopes in order to distinguish the cuts on fossil bones from those that might be made by animal or shark teeth. In many instances, the marks were located in places on the bone appropriate for specific butchering operations.

Nonetheless, reports of incised and broken bones indicating a human presence in the Pliocene and earlier are absent from the currently accepted stock of evidence. This exclusion may not, however, be warranted. From the incomplete evidence now under active consideration, scientists have concluded that humans of the modern type appeared fairly recently. But in light of the evidence covered in this chapter, it appears they may be deceiving themselves.



In April of 1863, Jules Desnoyers, of the French National Museum, came to St. Prest, in northwestern France, to gather fossils. From the sandy gravels, he recovered part of a rhinoceros tibia. He noticed on the bone a series of narrow grooves.


To Desnoyers, some of the grooves appeared to have been produced by a sharp knife or blade of flint. He also observed small circular marks that could well have been made by a pointed implement. Later, Desnoyers examined collections of St. Prest fossils at the museums of Chartres and the School of Mines in Paris and saw they bore the same types of marks. He then reported his findings to the French Academy of Sciences.

Some modern scientists have said that the St. Prest site belongs to the Late Pliocene. If Desnoyers concluded correctly that the marks on many of the bones had been made by flint implements, then it would appear that human beings had been present in France during that time.


One might ask, "What's wrong with that?" In terms of our modern understanding of paleoanthropology, quite a bit is wrong.


The presence at that time in Europe of beings using stone tools in a sophisticated manner would seem almost impossible. It is believed that at the end of the Pliocene, about 2 million years ago, the modern human species had not yet come into being. Only in Africa should one find primitive human ancestors, and these were limited to Australopithecus and Homo habilis, the latter considered the first toolmaker. According to reports by other scientists, the St. Prest site might be more recent than the Pliocene—perhaps as little as 1.2-1.6 million years old. But the incised bones would still be anomalous.

Even in the nineteenth century, Desnoyers's discoveries of incised bones at St. Prest provoked controversy. Opponents argued that the marks were made by the tools of the workmen who excavated them. But Desnoyers showed that the cut marks were covered with mineral deposits just like the other surfaces of the fossil bones. The prominent British geologist Sir Charles Lyell suggested the marks were made by rodents' teeth, but French prehistorian Gabriel de Mortillet said the marks could not have been made by animals. He instead suggested that they were made by sharp stones moved by geological pressure across the bones.


To this, Desnoyers replied:

"Many of the incisions have been worn by later rubbing, resulting from transport or movement of the bones in the midst of the sands and gravels. The resulting markings are of an essentially different character than the original marks and striations."

So who was right, Desnoyers or de Mortillet? Some authorities believed the question could be settled if it could be shown that the gravels of St. Prest contained flint tools that were definitely of human manufacture. Louis Bourgeois, a clergyman who had also earned a reputation as a distinguished paleontologist, carefully searched the strata at St. Prest for such evidence. By his patient research he eventually found a number of flints that he believed were genuine tools and made them the subject of a report to the Academy of Sciences in January, 1867. The famous French anthropologist Armand de Quatrefages said the tools included scrapers, borers, and lance points.

Even this did not satisfy de Mortillet, who said the flints discovered by Bourgeois at St. Prest had been chipped by geological pressure. It appears that in our attempt to answer one question, the nature of cut marks on bones, we have stumbled upon another, the question of how to recognize human workmanship on flints and other stone objects. This latter question shall be fully treated in the next chapter.


For now we shall simply note that judgments about what constitutes a stone tool are a matter of considerable controversy even to this day. It is, therefore, quite definitely possible to find reasons to question de Mortillet's rejection of the flints found by Bourgeois.


In 1910, the famous American paleontologist Henry Fairfield Osborn made these interesting remarks in connection with the presence of stone tools at St. Prest:

"the earliest traces of man in beds of this age were the incised bones discovered by Desnoyers at St. Prest near Chartres in 1863. Doubt as to the artificial character of these incisions has been removed by the recent explorations of Laville and Rutot, which resulted in the discovery of eolithic flints, fully confirming the discoveries of the Abbé Bourgeois in these deposits in 1867."

So as far as the discoveries at St. Prest are concerned, it should now be apparent that we are dealing with paleontological problems that cannot be quickly or easily resolved. Certainly, there is not sufficient reason to categorically reject these bones as evidence for a human presence in the Pliocene. This might lead one to wonder why the St. Prest fossils, and others like them, are almost never mentioned in textbooks on human evolution, except in rare cases of brief mocking footnotes of dismissal. Is it really because the evidence is clearly inadmissible? Or is, perhaps, the omission or summary rejection more related to the fact that the potential Late Pliocene antiquity of the objects is so much at odds with the standard account of human origins?

Along these lines, Armand de Quatrefages, a member of the French Academy of Sciences and a professor at the Museum of Natural History in Paris, wrote in his book Hommes Fossiles et Hommes Sauvages (1884):

"The objections made to the existence of humans in the Pliocene and Miocene periods seem to habitually be more related to theoretical considerations than to direct observation."



Before moving on to further examples of nineteenth-century discoveries that challenge modern ideas about human origins, let us consider a more recent investigation of intentionally modified bones. One of the most controversial questions confronting New World paleoanthropology is determining the time at which humans entered North America.


The standard view is that bands of Asian hunter-gatherers crossed over the Bering land bridge about 12,000 years ago. Some authorities are willing to extend the date to about 30,000 years ago, while an increasing minority are reporting evidence for a human presence in the Americas at far earlier dates in the Pleistocene.


We shall examine this question in greater detail in coming chapters. For now, however, we want only to consider the fossil bones uncovered at Old Crow River in the northern Yukon territory as a contemporary example of the type of evidence dealt with in this chapter.

In the 1970s, Richard E. Morlan of the Archeological Survey of Canada and the Canadian National Museum of Man, conducted studies of modified bones from the Old Crow River sites. Morlan concluded that many bones and antlers exhibited signs of intentional human work executed before the bones had become fossilized. The bones, which had undergone river transport, were recovered from an Early Wisconsin glacial floodplain dated at 80,000 years B. P. (before present). This greatly challenged current ideas about the peopling of the New World.

But in 1984 R. M. Thorson and R. D. Guthrie published a study showing that the action of river ice could have caused the alterations that suggested human work to Morlan. Afterwards, Morlan backed away from his assertions that all the bones he had collected had been modified by human agency. He admitted 30 out of 34 could have been marked by river ice or other natural causes.

Even so, he still believed the other four specimens bore definite signs of human work. In a published report, he said:

"The cuts and scrapes . . . are indistinguishable from those made by stone tools during butchering and defleshing of an animal carcass."

Morlan sent two of the bones to Dr. Pat Shipman of Johns Hopkins University, an expert on cut bones. Shipman examined the marks on the bones under an electron scanning microscope and compared them with more than 1,000 documented marks on bone. Shipman said the marks on one of the bones were inconclusive. But in her opinion the other bone had a definite tool mark on it. Morlan noted that stone implements have been found in the Old Crow River area and in nearby uplands, but not in direct association with bones.

What this all means is that the bones of St. Prest, and others like them, cannot be easily dismissed. Evidence of the same type is still considered important today, and the methods of analysis are almost identical to those practiced in the nineteenth century.


Scientists of those days may not have had electron microscopes, but optical microscopes were, and still are, good enough for this kind of work.



Another recent example of incised bones like those found at St. Prest is a discovery made by George Miller, curator of the Imperial Valley College Museum in El Centro, California. Miller, who died in 1989, reported that six mammoth bones excavated from the Anza-Borrego Desert bear scratches of the kind produced by stone tools. Uranium isotope dating carried out by the U.S. Geological Survey indicated that the bones are at least 300,000 years old, and paleo-magnetic dating and volcanic ash samples indicated an age of some 750,000 years.

One established scholar said that Miller's claim is,

"as reasonable as the Loch Ness Monster or a living mammoth in Siberia," while Miller countered that "these people don't want to see man here because their careers would go down the drain."

The incised mammoth bones from the Anza-Borrego Desert came up in a conversation we had with Thomas Demere, a paleontologist at the San Diego Natural History Museum (May 31, 1990). Demere said he was by nature skeptical of claims such as those made by Miller.


He called into question the professionalism with which the bones had been excavated, and pointed out that no stone tools had been found along with the fossils. Furthermore, Demere suggested that it was very unlikely that anything about the find would ever be published in a scientific journal, because the referees who review articles probably would not pass it. We later learned from Julie Parks, the curator of George Miller's specimens, that Demere had never inspected the fossils or visited the site of discovery, although he had been invited to do so.

Parks said that one incision apparently continues from one of the fossil bones to another bone that would have been located next to it when the mammoth skeleton was intact. This is suggestive of a butchering mark.


Accidental marks resulting from movement of the bones in the earth after the skeleton had broken up probably would not continue from one bone to another in this fashion.




Specimens incised in a manner similar to those of St. Prest were found by J. Desnoyers in a collection of bones gathered from the valley of the Arno River (Val d'Arno) in Italy. The grooved bones were from the same types of animals found at St. Prest—including Elephas meridionalis and Rhinoceros etruscus. They were attributed to the Pliocene stage called the Astian. This would yield a date of 3-4 million years. But it is possible that the bones could be as little as 1.3 million years old, which is when Elephas meriodionalis became extinct in Europe.

Grooved bones also were discovered in other parts of Italy. On September 20, 1865, at the meeting of the Italian Society of Natural Sciences at Spezia, Professor Ramorino presented bones of extinct species of red deer and rhinoceros bearing what he believed were human incisions. These specimens were found at San Giovanni, in the vicinity of Siena, and like the Val d'Arno bones were said to be from the Astian stage of the Pliocene period.


De Mortillet, not deviating from his standard negative opinion, stated that he thought the marks were most probably made by the tools of the workers who extracted the bones.



On April 13, 1868, A. Laussedat informed the French Academy of Sciences that P. Bertrand had sent him two fragments of a lower jaw of a rhinoceros. They were from a pit near Billy, France. One of the fragments had four very deep grooves on it.


These short grooves, situated on the lower part of the bone, were approximately parallel. According to Laussedat, the cut marks appeared in cross section like those made by a hatchet on a piece of hard wood. And so he thought the marks had been made in the same way, that is, with a handheld stone chopping instrument, when the bone was fresh. That indicated to Laussedat that humans had been contemporary with the fossil rhino in a geologically remote time. Just how remote is shown by the fact that the jawbone was found in a Middle Miocene formation, about 15 million years old.

Were the marks on the bone really produced by human beings? De Mortillet thought not. After ruling out gnawing by carnivores, he wrote, "They are simply geological impressions." Although de Mortillet may be right, he offered insufficient evidence to justify his view.

A highly regarded modern authority on cut bones is Lewis R. Binford, an anthropologist from the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque. In his book Bones: Ancient Men and Modern Myths, Binford said:

"Marks from stone tools tend to be short, occurring in groups of parallel marks."

The marks described by Laussedat conform to this description.



The April 1868 proceedings of the French Academy of Sciences contain this report by F. Garrigou and H. Filhol:

"We now have sufficient evidence to permit us to suppose that the contemporaneity of human beings and Miocene mammals is demonstrated."

This evidence was a collection of mammalian bones, apparently intentionally broken, from Sansan, France. Especially noteworthy were broken bones of the small deer Dicrocerus elegans. Modern scientists consider the bone beds of Sansan to be Middle Miocene. One may consider the devastating effect that the presence of human beings about 15 million years ago would have on current evolutionary doctrines.

De Mortillet, in his usual fashion, said that some of the Sansan bones were broken by natural forces at the time of fossilization, perhaps by desiccation, and others afterward by movement of the strata.

Garrigou, however, maintained his conviction that the bones of Sansan had been broken by humans, in the course of extracting marrow. He made his case in 1871 at the meeting in Bologna, Italy, of the International Congress of Prehistoric Anthropology and Archeology. Garrigou first presented to the Congress a series of recent bones with undisputed marks of butchering and breaking. For comparison, he then presented bones of the small deer (Dicrocerus elegans) collected from Sansan. The markings on these bones matched the modern bones.

Garrigou also showed that many of the bone fragments had very fine scrape marks such as found on broken marrow bones of the Late Pleistocene. According to Binford, the first step in processing marrow bones is to remove the layer of tissue from the bone surface by scraping with a stone tool.



At a place called Pikermi, near the plain of Marathon in Greece, there is a fossil-rich stratum of Late Miocene (Tortonian) age, explored and described by the prominent French scientist Albert Gaudry. During the meeting in 1872 at Brussels of the International Congress of Prehistoric Anthropology and Archeology, Baron von Dücker reported that broken bones from Pikermi proved the existence of humans in the Miocene.


Modern authorities still place the Pikermi site in the Late Miocene, which would make the bones at least 5 million years old.

Von Dücker first examined numerous bones from the Pikermi site in the Museum of Athens. He found 34 jaw parts of Hipparion (an extinct three-toed horse) and antelope as well as 19 fragments of tibia and 22 other fragments of bones from large mammals such as rhinoceros. All showed traces of methodical fracturing for the purpose of extracting marrow. According to von Dücker, they all bore "more or less distinct traces of blows from hard objects." He also noted many hundreds of bone flakes broken in the same manner.

In addition, von Dücker observed many dozens of crania of Hipparion and antelope showing methodical removal of the upper jaw in order to extract the brain. The edges of the fractures were very sharp, which may generally be taken as a sign of human breakage, rather than breakage by gnawing carnivores or geological pressures.

Von Dücker then journeyed to the Pikermi site itself to continue his investigation. During the course of his first excavation, he found dozens of bone fragments of Hipparion and antelope and reported that about one quarter of them bore signs of intentional breakage. In this regard, one may keep in mind Binford's finding that in assemblages of bones broken in the course of human marrow extraction about 14-17 percent have signs of impact notches.

"I also found," stated von Dücker, "among the bones a stone of a size that could readily be held in the hand. It is pointed on one side and is perfectly adapted to making the kinds of marks observed on the bones."




At a meeting of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, held on April 8, 1872, Edward Charlesworth, a Fellow of the Geological Society, showed many specimens of shark (Carcharodon) teeth, each with a hole bored through the center, as is done by South Seas islanders for the purpose of making weapons and necklaces. The teeth were recovered from eastern England's Red Crag formation, indicating an age of approximately 2.0-2.5 million years.

Charlesworth gave convincing arguments why marine animals such as boring molluscs could not have made the holes. During the discussion, one scientist suggested tooth decay as the cause, but sharks are not known to have that problem. Another suggested parasites, but admitted that no parasites are known to reside in the teeth of fishes.

At that point Dr. Collyer gave his opinion in favor of human action. The record of the meeting stated:

"He had carefully examined by aid of a powerful magnifying glass the perforated shark's teeth. . . . The perforations, to his mind, were the work of man."


Among his reasons were "the bevelled conditions of the edges of the perforations," "the central position of the holes in the teeth," and "the marks of artificial means employed in making the borings."



In 1874, Frank Calvert found in a Miocene formation in Turkey (along the Dardanelles) a Deinotherium bone with carved figures of animals upon it.


Calvert noted:

"I have found in different parts of the same cliff, not far from the site of the engraved bone, a flint flake and some bones of animals, fractured longitudinally, obviously by the hand of man for the purpose of extracting the marrow, according to the practice of all primitive races."

The elephant like Deinotherium is said by modern authorities to have existed from the Late Pliocene to the Early Miocene in Europe. It is thus quite possible that Calvert's dating of the Dardanelles site as Miocene was correct. The Miocene is now said to extend from 5 to 25 million years before the present. According to the current dominant view, only exceedingly apelike hominids are supposed to have existed during that period. Even a Late Pliocene date of 2-3 million years for the Dardanelles site would be far too early for the kind of artifacts found there. Carvings of the kind found on the Deinotherium bone are said to be the work of anatomically modern humans of the last 40,000 years.

In Le Prehistorique, de Mortillet did not dispute the age of the Dardanelles formation. Instead he commented that the simultaneous presence of a carved bone, intentionally broken bones, and a flint flake tool was almost too perfect, so perfect as to raise doubts about the finds. This is quite remarkable. In the case of the incised bones of St. Prest, de Mortillet complained that no stone tools or other signs of a human presence were to be found at the site.


But here, with the requisite items discovered along with the carved bone, de Mortillet said the ensemble was "too perfect," hinting at cheating by Calvert.

But David A. Traill, a professor of classics at the University of California at Davis, gives this information about him:

"Calvert was the most distinguished of a family of British expatriates that was prominent in the Dardanelles... he had a good knowledge of geology and paleontology."

Calvert conducted several important excavations in the Dardanelles region, and played a role in the discovery of Troy. Traill noted:

"Calvert was, as far as I have been able to determine from extensive reading of his correspondence, scrupulously truthful."



During the latter part of the nineteenth century, fossil whale bones bearing cut marks turned up in Italy. On November 25, 1875, G. Capellini, professor of geology at the University of Bologna, reported that the marks had been made when the bone was fresh, apparently by flint tools. Many other European scientists agreed with Capellini's interpretation.


The bones bearing the marks were from an extinct Pliocene whale of the genus Balaenotus. Some of the bones were from museum collections, and others were excavated personally by Capellini from Pliocene formations around Siena, at places such as Poggiarone.

The cut marks on the bones were found in places appropriate for butchering operations, such as the external surfaces of the ribs. On a nearly complete whale skeleton excavated by Capellini, the cut marks were found only on bones from one side of the whale.

"I am convinced that the animal ran aground in the sand and rested on its left side and that the right side was thus exposed to the direct attack of humans, as is demonstrated by the places in which marks are found on the bones," said Capellini.

That only the bones on one side of the whale were marked tends to rule out any purely geological explanation as well as the action of sharks in deep water. Furthermore, the cut marks on the fossil whale bones exactly resembled cut marks found on modern whale bones.

Capellini reported to the International Congress of Prehistoric Anthropology and Archeology:

"In the vicinity of the remains of the Balaenotus of Poggiarone, I collected some flint blades, lost in the actual beach deposits."


He added: "With those same flint implements I was able to reproduce on fresh cetacean bones the exact same marks found on the fossil whale bones."

He also noted that human skeletal remains had been found in the same part of Italy, at Savona (see Chapter 7).

After Capellini's report, the members of the Congress engaged in discussion. Some, such as Sir John Evans, raised objections. Others, such as Paul Broca, secretary general of the Anthropological Society in Paris, agreed with Capellini that the marks on the whale bones were made by humans. He particularly ruled out the hypothesis that the marks were made by sharks and said the marks gave every sign of having been made by a sharp blade. Broca was one of the foremost authorities on bone physiology of his time.

Armand de Quatrefages was among the scientists accepting the Monte Aperto Balaenotus bones as being cut by sharp flint instruments held by a human hand.

He wrote in 1884:

"However one may try, using various methods and implements of other materials, one will fail to duplicate the marks. Only a sharp flint instrument, moved at an angle and with a lot of pressure, could do it."

The whole issue was nicely summarized in English by S. Laing, who wrote in 1893:

"The cuts are in regular curves, and sometimes almost semicircular, such as the sweep of the hand could alone have caused, and they invariably show a clean cut surface on the outer or convex side, to which the pressure of a sharp edge was applied, with a rough or abraded surface on the inner side of the cut.


Microscopic examination of the cuts confirms this conclusion, and leaves no doubt that they must have been made by such an instrument as a flint knife, held obliquely and pressed against the bone while in a fresh state, with considerable force, just as a savage would do in hacking the flesh off a stranded whale.


Cuts exactly similar can now be made on fresh bone by such flint knives, and in no other known or conceivable way. It seems, therefore, more like obstinate prepossession, than scientific skepticism, to deny the existence of Tertiary man, if it rested only on this single instance."

A modern authority, Binford, stated:

"There is little chance that an observer of modified bone would confuse cut marks inflicted during dismembering or filleting by man using tools with the action of animals."

But the teeth of sharks are sharper than those of terrestrial mammalian carnivores such as wolves and might produce marks on bone that more closely resemble those that might be made by cutting implements. After inspecting fossil whale bones in the paleontology collection of the San Diego Natural History Museum, we concluded that shark's teeth can in fact make marks closely resembling those that might be made by implements.

The bones we saw were from a small Pliocene species of baleen whale. We examined cuts on the bone through a magnifying glass. We saw evenly spaced parallel longitudinal striations on both surfaces of the cuts. These are just the kind of marks one would expect from the serrated edge of a shark's tooth. We also saw scrape marks on the bone. These could have been produced by a glancing blow, with the edge of the tooth scraping along the surface of the bone rather than cutting into it.


With this knowledge, it should be possible to reexamine the Pliocene whale bones of Italy and arrive at some fairly definite conclusions as to whether or not the marks on them were made by shark teeth. Patterns of parallel ridges and grooves on the surfaces of the fossils would be an almost certain sign of shark predation or scavenging. And if close examination of deep V-shaped cuts also revealed evenly spaced, parallel longitudinal striations, that, too, would have to be taken as evidence that shark teeth made the cuts.


One would not expect the surfaces of marks made by flint blades to display evenly spaced striations.



In 1867, L. Bourgeois caused a great sensation when he presented to the members of the International Congress of Prehistoric Anthropology and Archeology, meeting in Paris, a Halitherium bone bearing marks that appeared to be human incisions. Halitherium is a kind of extinct sea cow, an aquatic marine mammal of the order Sirenia.

The fossilized bones of Halitherium had been discovered by the Abbé Delaunay in the shell beds at Barriere, near Pouance in northwestern France. Delaunay was surprised to see on a fragment of the humerus, a bone from the upper forelimb, a number of cut marks. The surfaces of the cuts were of the same appearance as the rest of the bone and were easily distinguished from recent breaks, indicating that the cuts were quite ancient.


The bone itself, which was fossilized, was firmly situated in an undisturbed stratum, making it clear that the marks on the bone were of the same geological age. Furthermore, the depth and sharpness of the incisions showed that they had been made before the bone had fossilized. Some of the incisions appeared to have been made by two separate intersecting strokes.

Even de Mortillet admitted that they did not appear to be the products of subterranean scraping or compression. But he would not admit they could be the product of human work, mainly because of the Miocene age of the stratum in which the bones were found. De Mortillet wrote in 1883, "This is much too old for man."


Here again, we have a clear case of theoretical preconceptions dictating how one will interpret a set of facts.



In 1876, at a meeting of the Geological Committee of Italy, M. A. Ferretti showed a fossil animal bone bearing "traces of work of the hand of man, so evident as to exclude all doubt to the contrary." This bone, of elephant or rhinoceros, was found firmly in place in Astian (Late Pliocene) strata in San Valentino (Reggio d'Emilia), Italy.


Of special interest is the fact that the fossil bone has an almost perfectly round hole at the place of its greatest width. According to Ferretti, the hole in the bone was not the work of molluscs or crustaceans. The next year Ferretti showed to the Committee another bone bearing traces of human work. It was found in blue Pliocene clay, of Astian age, at San Ruffino. This bone appeared to have been partially sawn through at one end, and then broken.

At a scientific conference held in 1880, G. Bellucci, of the Italian Society for Anthropology and Geography, called attention to new discoveries in San Valentino and Castello delle Forme, near Perugia. These included animal bones bearing cuts and impact marks from stones, implements, carbonized bones, and flint flakes. All were recovered from lacustrine Pliocene clays, characterized by a fauna like that of the classic Val d'Arno.


According to Bellucci, these objects proved the existence of man in the Pliocene.



In the late nineteenth century, the museum of natural history at Clermont-Ferrand acquired a femur of Rhinoceros paradoxus with grooves on its surface. The specimen was found in a freshwater limestone al'Gannal, which contained fossils of animals typical of the Middle Miocene. Some suggested the grooves on the bone were caused by animal teeth. But Gabriel de Mortillet disagreed, offering his usual explanation—the bone had been marked by stones moving under geological pressure.
But de Mortillet's own description of the markings on the bone leaves this interpretation open to question.


The cut marks were located near the end of the femur, near the joint surfaces. According to Louis Binford, a modern expert on cut bones, this is where butchering marks would normally be found. De Mortillet also said that the marks were "parallel grooves, somewhat irregular, transverse to the axis of the bone."


Binford's studies revealed:

"Cut marks from stone tools are most commonly made with a sawing motion resulting in short and frequently multiple but roughly parallel marks."



In a report delivered to the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1881, H. Slopes, F.G.S. (Fellow of the Geological Society), described a shell, the surface of which bore a carving of a crude but unmistakably human face.


The carved shell was found in the stratified deposits of the Red Crag, which is between 2.0 and 2.5 million years old.

Marie C. Slopes, the discoverer's daughter, argued in an article in The Geological Magazine (1912) that the carved shell could not have been a forgery:

"It should be noted that the excavated features are as deeply colored red-brown as the rest of the surface. This is an important point, because when the surface of Red Crag shells are scratched they show while below the color. It should also be noticed that the shell is so delicate that any attempt to carve it would merely shatter it."

One should keep in mind that in terms of conventional paleoanthropological opinion, one does not encounter such works of art until the time of fully modern Cro-Magnon man in the Late Pleistocene, about 30,000 years ago.



In the early twentieth century, J. Reid Moir, the discoverer of many anomalously old flint implements (see Chapter 3), described "a series of mineralized bone implements of a primitive type from below the base of the Red and Coralline Crags of Suffolk."


The top of the Red Crag in East Anglia is now considered to mark the boundary of the Pliocene and Pleistocene, and would thus date back about 2.0-2.5 million years. The older Coralline Crag is Late Pliocene and would thus be al least 2.5-3.0 million years old. The beds below the Red and Coralline Crags, the detritus beds, contain materials ranging from Pliocene to Eocene in age. Objects found there could thus be anywhere from 2 million to 55 million years old.

One group of Moir's specimens is of triangular shape. In his report, Moir stated:

"These have all been formed from wide, flat, thin pieces of bone, probably portions of large ribs, which have been so fractured as to now present a definite form. This triangular form has, in every case, been produced by fractures across the natural 'grain' of the bone."

Moir conducted experiments on bone and came to the conclusion that his specimens were "undoubted works of man." According to Moir, the triangular pieces of fossilized whale bone discovered in the strata below the Coralline Crag might have once been used as spear points. Moir also found whale ribs that had been worked into pointed implements.

Moir and others also found incised bones and bone implements in various levels of the Cromer Forest Bed, from the youngest to the oldest. The youngest levels of the Cromer Forest Bed are about .4 million years old; the oldest are at least .8 million years old, and, according to some modern authorities, might be as much as 1.75 million years old.

In addition, Moir described a bone discovered by a Mr. Whincopp, of Woodbridge in Suffolk, who had in his private collection a "piece of fossil rib partially sawn across at both ends." This object came from the detritus bed below the Red Crag and was, said Moir, "regarded by both the discoverer and the late Rev. Osmond Fisher as affording evidence of human handiwork." Indications of sawing would be quite unexpected on a fossil bone of this age.

A piece of sawn wood was recovered by S. A. Notcutt from the Cromer Forest Bed at Mundesley. Most of the Mundesley strata are about .4 -.5 million years old.

In the course of his comments about the piece of cut wood, Moir made these observations:

"The flat end appears to have been produced by sawing with a sharp flint, and at one spot it seems that the line of cutting has been corrected, as is often necessary when starting to cut wood with a modern steel saw."

Moir further noted:

"The pointed end is somewhat blackened as if by fire, and it is possible that the specimen represents a primitive digging stick used for grubbing up roots."

While there is an outside chance that beings of the Homo erectus type might have been present in England during the time of the Cromer Forest Bed, the level of technological sophistication implied by this sawn wood tool is suggestive of sapiens-like capabilities. In fact, it is hard to see how this kind of sawing could have been produced even by stone implements. Small flint chips mounted in a wooden holder, for example, would not have produced the clean cut evident on the specimen because the wooden holder would have been wider than the flint teeth.


Hence one could not have cut a narrow groove with such a device. A saw blade made only of stone would have been extremely brittle and would not have lasted long enough to perform the operation. Furthermore, it would have been quite an accomplishment to make such a stone blade. Thus it seems that only a metal saw could produce the observed sawing. Of course, a metal saw at 4-5 million years is quite anomalous.

It is remarkable that the incised bones, bone implements, and other artifacts from the Red Crag and Cromer Forest Beds are hardly mentioned at all in today's standard textbooks and references.


This is especially remarkable in the case of the Cromer Forest Bed finds, most of which are, in terms of their age, bordering on the acceptable, in terms of the modern paleoanthropological sequence of events.



Osmond Fisher, a fellow the Geological Society, discovered an interesting feature in the landscape of Dorsetshire—the elephant trench at Dewlish.


Fisher said in The Geological Magazine (1912):

"This trench was excavated in chalk and was 12 feet deep, and of such a width that a man could just pass along it. It is not on the line of any natural fracture, and the beds of flint on each side correspond. The bottom was of undisturbed chalk, and one end, like the sides, was vertical. At the other end it opened diagonally on to the steep side of a valley. It has yielded substantial remains of Elephas meridionalis, but no other fossils. . . . This trench, in my opinion, was excavated by man in the later Pliocene age as a pitfall to catch elephants."

Elephas meridionalis, or "southern elephant," was in existence in Europe from 1.2 to 3.5 million years ago. Thus, while the bones found in the trench at Dewlish could conceivably be Early Pleistocene in age, they might also date to the Late Pliocene.

Photographs show the vertical walls of the trench were carefully chipped as if with a large chisel. And Fisher referred to reports showing that primitive hunters of modern times made use of similar trenches.

But further excavation of the trench by the Dorset Field Club, as reported in a brief note in Nature (October 16, 1914), revealed that "instead of ending below in a definite floor it divides downward into a chain of deep narrow pipes in the chalk." However, it is not unlikely that ancient humans might have made use of small fissures to open a larger trench in the chalk. It would be worthwhile to examine the elephant bones found in the trench for signs of cut marks.

Fisher made another interesting discovery. In his 1912 review, he wrote:

"When digging for fossils in the Eocene of Barton Cliff I found a piece of jet-like substance about 9 1/2 inches square and 2 1/2 inches thick. . . . It bore on at least one side what seemed to me marks of the chopping which had formed it into its accurately square shape. The specimen is now in the Sedgwick Museum, Cambridge."

Jet is a compact velvety-black coal that takes a good polish and is often used as jewelry. The Eocene period dates back about 38-55 million years from the present.



It is really quite curious that so many serious scientific investigators in the nineteenth century and early twentieth century independently and repeatedly reported that marks on bones and shells from Miocene, Pliocene, and Early Pleistocene formations were indicative of human work.


Among the researchers making such claims were Desnoyers, de Quatrefages, Ramorino, Bourgeois, Delaunay, Bertrand, Laussedat, Garrigou, Filhol, von Dücker, Owen, Collyer, Calvert, Capellini, Broca, Ferretti, Bellucci, Slopes, Moir, Fisher, and Keith.

Were these scientists deluded? Perhaps so.


But cut marks on fossil bones are an odd thing about which to develop delusions—hardly romantic or inspiring. Were the abovementioned researchers victims of a unique mental aberration of the last century and the early part of this one? Or does evidence of primitive hunters really abound in the faunal remains of the Pliocene and earlier periods?

Assuming such evidence is there, one might ask why it is not being found today. One very good reason is that no one is looking for it. Evidence for intentional human work on bone might easily escape the attention of a scientist not actively searching for it.


If a paleoanthropologist is convinced that tool-making human beings did not exist in the Middle Pliocene, he is not likely to give much thought to the exact nature of markings on fossil bones from that period.


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