Monday, July 3, 2023

Cut Marked Hominin Fossil from the Pleistocene

Environmental & Science Education,  STEM, Anthropology, Paleontology, Models, History of Science

Ed Hessler

"A fossilized leg bone bearing cut marks made by stone tools might be the earliest evidence that ancient humans butchered and ate each other's flesh" is the opening sentence in a Nature News report (June 26, 2027) by Lilly Tozer. (italics added)

The hominin tibia bone is 1.45 million-years-old and Tozer writes about is "described in Scientific Reports, features cuts similar to butchery marks found on fossilized animal bones from around the same time. The scrapes are located at an opportune spot for removing muscle, suggesting that they were made with the intention of carving up the carcass for food." 

Paleoanthropologist Briana Pobiner found it at the National Museums of Kenya where she was examining a collection of fossils searching for bite marks made by animals.

Here are a few notes I made from the the scientific report:

--the hominin species from which the tibia was found is not known

--impressions taken from the bone (see methods section paper for details) were compared with an existing data base of nearly 900 indicated that of the eleven marks, two were made by lions and that the remaining nine were made by stone tools

--Hominin butchery is not unknown and has been found in specimens from Europe and Africa

--the paper is beautifully illustrated, each with explanations and appropriate labels. They all caught my eye but as a small sample here are three: one of all the cut and tooth marks (labeled), one of a close up of three non-human (faunal) fossil specimens showing similar cut marks and one of a closeup of the lion tooth mark compared with a modern tooth mark--a processed 3-D model (see methods)

--a thorough discussion of anthropophagy which refers to occasional consumption of humans by other humans and cannibalism, a cultural practice which includes past research very much worth reviewing and interesting on what is known

--evidence for Pleistocene hominin butchery on humans (also worth reviewing)

I suggest reading Tozer's reporting first before taking a look at the full scientific paper. It includes a "revealing" photograph of the marks. I liked it especially for calling to attention the role of training and experience in observing such small details on a bone.
About the Pleistocene see this Wiki entry.

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