Tata Hungary Neanderthal Cross

Tata Incised Nummulite

Figure 12.5 Perforated bones and teeth from the Middle Palaeolithic levels of Repolosthohle, Austria (nos 1, 2); the Micoquian levels of Bocksteinschmiede, Germany (nos 3, 5 - a wolf metapodium and swans vertebra respectively); and the Acheulian levels ofPech de VAzell, France (no. 4). After Bednarik 1992 (nos 1, 2); Marshack 1990 (nos 3, 5); Bordes 1969 (no. 4).

Figure 12.5 Perforated bones and teeth from the Middle Palaeolithic levels of Repolosthohle, Austria (nos 1, 2); the Micoquian levels of Bocksteinschmiede, Germany (nos 3, 5 - a wolf metapodium and swans vertebra respectively); and the Acheulian levels ofPech de VAzell, France (no. 4). After Bednarik 1992 (nos 1, 2); Marshack 1990 (nos 3, 5); Bordes 1969 (no. 4).

1972, 1988, 1990; Lindly & Clark 1990; Bednarik 1992). The most controversial pieces are some of the supposedly decorated bones, such as those recovered from one of the Rissian levels at Pech de FAze II (Bordes 1969, 1972), the later Mousterian levels at Cueva Morin in northern Spain (Gonzalez Echegaray 1988), and the much earlier, Middle Pleistocene levels at Bilzingsleben in east Germany (Mania & Mania 1988) (see Fig. 12.4). Among the smaller group of perforated objects are the swan's vertebra and wolf metapodial from the Micoquian levels at Bocksteinschmiede in west Germany, the perforated reindeer phalanges from the Quina-Mousterian levels at La Quina, the flattened bone fragment with a small perforation from Repolusthohle, and the two typical but remarkably isolated specimens of perforated animal teeth recovered from supposedly Mousterian levels at La Quina and Repolusthohle respectively (Fig. 12.5). Finally, and most significantly, there is the intriguing nummulite fossil from Tata in Hungary, on which a natural crack running through the centre of the fossil has been supplemented by a further, finely incised line running almost exactly at right angles to form a regular, symmetrical cross (Fig. 12.6: see Marshack 1988, 1990 and Bednarik 1992 for details of these pieces and full references to the relevant literature).

Figure 12.6 Fossil nummulite from the Mousterian levels of Tata (Hungary), on which a cross has been formed by incising a single line at right angles to a natural crack running through the fossil. After Marshack 1990.

The problems of accepting these items as convincing examples of symbolic or even decorative objects have been spelled out fully by Chase, Dibble and others (Chase & Dibble 1987,1992; Dibble & Chase 1990; Davidson & Noble 1989, 1993). The most obvious ambiguities concern the grouping of supposedly engraved bones. As Chase and Dibble (1992) point out, deep and in some cases quite regularly spaced incisions on bone fragments can be produced easily when skinning and butchering animal carcases and are frequent occurrences on most Palaeolithic and Meso-lithic sites with well preserved faunal material. In my own opinion - and that of Chase and Dibble - none of the markings so far described from Lower and Middle Palaeolithic sites in Europe shows anything approaching the degree of clarity, regularity, organization, or obvious intentionality that one would expect from deliberately and consciously symbolic engravings. In this respect they contrast strikingly with the great majority of engravings recovered from Upper Palaeolithic sites, where the obvious patterning and clear intentionality of the engravings cannot be questioned (e.g. Fig. 13.2) ( Marshack 1972). The status of these and similar pieces has been summed up aptly by Chase as follows:

(Most) archaeological bone assemblages contain very large numbers of specimens with tool marks, many of them with many such marks. This means a large number of patterns of marks. It is all too easy to pick out a few specimens from the eye-catching end of the natural variation among these patterns and to attribute them to intentional symbol making rather than to the laws of probability.

(Chase 1991: 210)

The occasional specimens of perforated bones and teeth reported from Middle and Lower Palaeolithic contexts pose similar problems. It is now generally accepted that the claimed perforation on the bone fragment from Pech de 1'Aze II (Fig. 12.5), and the perforated reindeer phalanges from La Quina are almost certainly the results of natural damage, caused by chemical erosion of the bones or by carnivore gnawing (Chase 1990). The two very characteristic but extremely isolated specimens of perforated animal teeth described from the Mousterian levels at La Quina and Repolusthohle (a fox canine and a wolf incisor respectively: Fig. 12.5) on the other hand clearly cannot be explained in such terms. As White (1989: 386) has pointed out, the critical question is whether these pieces were truly associated with the Mousterian levels on the sites or, as seems more likely, they were misplaced during the original excavations from overlying Upper Palaeolithic levels on the sites. We are left with the intriguing perforated swan's vertebra and wolf metapodial from the Bocksteinschmiede cave (Fig. 12.5) which, if genuinely associated with the Micoquian levels, do seem to represent deliberately perforated objects (Marshack 1990). Whether these two, isolated specimens can be taken to represent explicitly symbolic or even decorative items is still an open question. Chase and Dibble (1992) have recently suggested the possibility of a purely utilitarian function, for example as parts of toggles, thongs or other items of clothing.

The main problem in accepting these objects as convincing evidence for symbolic expression in the Middle Palaeolithic lies in their extreme rarity - especially when seen in the context of the long time-span of the Middle Palaeolithic (over 150,000 years) and the large numbers of sites and occupation levels of this period which have been investigated throughout Europe. As Chase & Dibble (1987,1992) and others have emphasized, for any pattern of behaviour to be regarded as clearly symbolic there must presumably be evidence that the behaviour was shared amongst members of the societies in question and served as a medium for communication between group members. How such significance can be attached to objects such as the two perforated bones from Bocksteinsch-miede, or the two highly questionable perforated teeth from La Quina and Repolus-thohle, which are effectively unique in the European Middle Palaeolithic, is by no means clear. Again, the contrast with the Upper Palaeolithic could hardly be more dramatic. From the earlier stages of the Aurignacian, for example, we not only have large numbers of perforated animal teeth recovered from many individual occupation levels (such as the 53 teeth recovered from the Aurignacian I levels at La Souquette, or the 29 specimens from the similar levels at the Grotte de Spy: White 1989; Otte 1979) but also a repetition of this pattern from many early Aurignacian sites distributed across the length and breadth of Europe, from the Balkans to Belgium, southwestern France, Italy and northern Spain (Han 1972, 1977; Otte 1979; Kozlowski & Klima 1982; White 1989, 1993). Regardless of the significance attached to any individual objects, such as the enigmatic engraved cross (Fig. 12.6) on the Tata pebble, the scarcity and isolation of these objects within the Middle Palaeolithic universe as a whole makes it difficult to see symbolic expression as a significant component of Neanderthal behaviour.

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