Recently on GPN we have reported on a number of finds and papers detailing the use of organic materials at Palaeolithic sites. Indeed, a recent study from the site of Scladina has highlighted the further use of bone material as lithic retouchers. The cave itself is a multi-leveled site though from a single level, Layer 5 (MIS 5d-5b), 26 bone retouchers have been recovered. Whilst the quantity of retouchers from this level is impressive the presence of 6 retouchers using cave bear bones is more interesting since such examples are rare within the archaeological record.
The authors present a very detailed assessment of both the site taphonomy and chaine opertoire of these items, through the use of a detailed analysis of bone surface modifications and the use of new high-resolution scanning technology. The study presents evidence for both the disarticulation and initial skinning of these cave bear remains. In addition, the authors are able to argue and suggest the presence of a structured approach to obtain bone blanks that are of a predetermined size required. This is argued through the presence of both unused bone flake blanks within the deposits but also from the analysis of removals from the retouchers themselves.
What is most interesting from this new study is how, through detailed investigation, the authors were able to refit four of the cave bear fragments, used as retouchers, to form the shaft of a single cave bear long bone. From this the authors surmise that after initial cleaning and preparation the bone was intentionally fractured and then underwent secondary cleaning to remove remaining tissue and periosteum. On some specimens additional flakes were also removed to obtain an exact size or shape.
In tying the data from Scladina into the wider Neanderthal record, and in particular the use of bone retouchers, the data on the bone surface modifications are consistent with that from other Middle Palaeolithic sites. In fact the data from Scladina presents a holistic picture of both acquisition, preparation, production and re-use within a variety of environments. This is further data to support the flexibility and adaptability of Neanderthal populations as well as their ability for longer-term planning and provisioning.
Full reference: Abrams, G et al. 2013. When Neanderthals used cave bear (Ursus spelaeus) remains: Bone retouchers from unit 5 of Scladina Cave (Belgium). Quaternary International.