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Journal Articles Journal of Human Evolution Year : 2011

The earliest evidence for the use of human bone as a tool


We report on the analysis of three human cranial fragments from a Mousterian context at the site of La Quina (France), which show anthropogenic surface modifications. Macroscopic and microscopic analyses, including SEM observation, demonstrate that the modifications visible on one of these fragments are similar to those produced on bone fragments used experimentally to retouch flakes. The microscopic analysis also identified ancient scraping marks, possibly resulting from the cleaning of the skull prior to its breakage and utilisation of a resulting fragment as a tool. The traces of utilisation and the dimensions of this object are compared to those on a sample of 67 bone retouchers found in the same excavation area and layer. Results show that the tool size, as well as the dimensions and location of the utilised area, fall well within the range of variation observed on faunal shaft fragments from La Quina that were used as retouchers. This skull fragment represents the earliest known use of human bone as a raw material and the first reported use of human bone for this purpose by hominins other than modern humans. The two other skull fragments, which probably come from the same individual, also bear anthropogenic surface modifications in the form of percussion, cut, and scraping marks. The deliberate versus unintentional hypotheses for the unusual choice of the bone are presented in light of contextual information, modifications identified on the two skull fragments not used as tools, and data on bone retouchers from the same layer, the same site, and other Mousterian sites.

Dates and versions

hal-00839219 , version 1 (27-06-2013)



Christine Verna, Francesco d'Errico. The earliest evidence for the use of human bone as a tool. Journal of Human Evolution, 2011, 60 (2), pp.145-157. ⟨10.1016/j.jhevol.2010.07.027⟩. ⟨hal-00839219⟩


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