INCISED AND BROKEN BONES: THE DAWN OF DECEPTION
St. Prest, France
A Modern Example: Old Crow
Incised Bones from Italian
Rhinoceros of Billy, France
Colline de Sansan, France
Pierced Shark Teeth from the
Red Crag, England
Carved Bone from the
Balaenotus of Monte Aperto,
Halitherium of Pouance,
San Valentino, Italy
Carved Shell from the Red
Bone Implements from Below
the Red Crag, England
Dewlish Elephant Trench,
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
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
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.
ST. PREST, FRANCE
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
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
One might ask, "What's wrong with that?" In terms of our
modern understanding of paleoanthropology, quite a bit is wrong.
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
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
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
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
"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."
A MODERN EXAMPLE: OLD CROW RIVER, CANADA
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
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
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.
of those days may not have had electron microscopes, but optical
microscopes were, and still are, good enough for this kind of work.
ANZA-BORREGO DESERT, CALIFORNIA
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 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
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.
INCISED BONES FROM ITALIAN SITES
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.
RHINOCEROS OF BILLY, FRANCE
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
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
The marks described by Laussedat conform to this
COLLINE DE SANSAN, FRANCE
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
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
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
PIERCED SHARK TEETH FROM THE RED CRAG, ENGLAND
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."
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."
CARVED BONE FROM THE DARDANELLES, TURKEY
In 1874, Frank Calvert found in a Miocene formation in Turkey (along
the Dardanelles) a Deinotherium bone with carved figures of animals
"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
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:
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,
BALAENOTUS OF MONTE APERTO, ITALY
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.
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
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.
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
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
One would not expect the surfaces of marks made by flint
blades to display evenly spaced striations.
HALITHERIUM OF POUANCE, FRANCE
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."
we have a clear case of theoretical preconceptions dictating how one
will interpret a set of facts.
SAN VALENTINO, ITALY
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),
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
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
CARVED SHELL FROM THE RED CRAG, ENGLAND
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.
BONE IMPLEMENTS FROM BELOW THE RED CRAG, ENGLAND
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,
"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
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
"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:
end is somewhat blackened as if by fire, and it is possible that the
specimen represents a primitive digging stick used for grubbing up
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.
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
DEWLISH ELEPHANT TRENCH, ENGLAND
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
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
Fisher made another interesting discovery. In his 1912 review, he
"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,
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.
CONCLUDING WORDS ABOUT INTENTIONALLY MODIFIED BONE
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,
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