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J Hum Evol. 1997 Jul;33(1):1-31.

Holes and grooves: the contribution of microscopy and taphonomy to the problem of art origins.

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UMR 9933 du CNRS, Institut du Quaternaire, Talence, France.


Optical and scanning electron microscopy, comparative anatomy, data from modern and Pleistocene carnivore accumulations, and analysis of archeological materials show that some of the pieces interpreted by various scholars as engraved or perforated bones from European Lower and Middle Paleolithic sites (such as Pech de l'Azé II, Stránska Skála, Kulna, Bois Roche and Cueva Morin) are not early manifestations of non-utilitarian behavior. Putative engravings are in fact vascular grooves, while perforated pieces are partially-digested bones regurgitated by hyenas. The current debate on art origins has often been centered on the symbolic value and cognitive implications of these and similar pieces without a first-hand analysis of the objects to provide convincing demonstration of the human origins of the marks. Such demonstration is a necessary prerequisite to any discussion of their significance for the evolution of symbolic behavior.

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