Experimental patterns of hammerstone percussion damage on bones: implications for inferences of carcass processing by humans

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Charles P. Egeland, Associate Professor (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site: http://library.uncg.edu/

Abstract: The common occurrence of hammerstone percussion damage (pits, striae, notches and impact flakes) on the fossil limb bones of ungulates indicates that marrow extraction has been an important component of hominid butchery for over two million years. Beyond this level of basic inference, it would be behaviorally informative if three deeper aspects of marrow harvesting were understood more clearly: (1) whether inter-element patterns of bone fragmentation vary when processing intensity is held constant; (2) whether butcher investment in marrow extraction correlates positively with the number of percussion marks generated; (3) whether taphonomic effectors can be identified based on percussion mark morphology, frequency and placement. Some experimental work has been conducted previously in service of exploring these questions, but we set out here to address them explicitly through the analysis of a large sample of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) limb elements fractured by hammerstone percussion. Our results indicate that (1) measures of bone fragmentation, which supposedly reflect processing intensity, are highly contingent on the research question being posed. This stresses the fact that researchers must be explicit in their definition of processing intensity. (2) In addition, hypothesized covariance between number of hammerstone blows and percussion mark frequencies are not met in our sample, corroborating previous conclusions of a lack of covariance between cutting strokes and cutmark frequencies. These results highlight the contingent nature of butchery mark production, and emphasize the need to investigate carcass resource exploitation by posing questions that do not rely on mark frequencies, but instead utilize other zooarchaeological measures. (3) Finally, our results—showing high incidences of impact notches and flakes created by direct anvil contact and “anvil scratches” created by direct hammerstone contact—suggest caution in using specific categories of percussion damage to infer their taphonomic effectors.

Additional Information

Journal of Archaeological Science 33, 459-469.
Language: English
Date: 2006
Butchery, Carcass processing intensity, Bone fragmentation, Percussion marks

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