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J Hum Evol. 1998 Aug;35(2):111-36.

A critique of the evidence for scavenging by Neanderthals and early modern humans: new data from Kobeh Cave (Zagros Mountains, Iran) and Die Kelders Cave 1 layer 10 (South Africa).

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Department of Anthropology, SUNY, Stony Brook 11794-4364, USA.


The primary mode of faunal exploitation by Neandertals and early modern humans remains a debated topic. Binford (1981, 1984, 1985, 1988) has argued for an obligate scavenging mode, Stiner (1991a, 1991b, 1991c, 1993, 1994) for a more opportunistic scavenging mode, while other researchers (Chase, 1986, 1988, 1989; Klein, 1989, 1994, 1995; Klein & Cruz-Uribe, 1996) deny the importance of scavenging as a faunal exploitation tactic. The scavenging interpretations rely primarily on several patterns in the faunal remains: the presence of a skeletal element pattern dominated by heads or head and foot parts, the presence of carnivore tooth marks on bone fragments, and infrequent cut marks that typically are not located on shaft regions of long bones or on fleshy bones. Five sites have been used to argue for scavenging: Klasies River Mouth, Combe Grenal, Grotta Guattari, Grotta dei Moscerini, and Grotte Vaufrey. The former four of the five sites are biased samples in that long bone shafts and other difficult to identify fragments were discarded at excavation. The analysis of Grotte Vaufrey included only those shafts identifiable to species or genus, thus excluding the vast majority of shaft specimens. This bias systematically shapes the skeletal element and surface modification patterning in ways that make the assemblages appear to fit a model of scavenging, when in fact the main determinant of the pattern is the bias in the flawed samples. This problem is illustrated with two unbiased faunal assemblages (Kobeh Cave and Die Kelders Layer 10). Skeletal element abundance is calculated in a way that mimics the bias in the sites listed above by excluding the shafts. Using this procedure, both Kobeh and Die Kelders have a head and foot skeletal element pattern and thus appear scavenged. Both assemblages are then analyzed in their entirety and a new pattern, consistent with hunting, is revealed. Taphonomic data on bone survival and destruction provide an explanation for this result. Excluding shaft fragments from the analysis also biases the surface modification patterning in such a way as to produce a pattern more consistent with scavenging. The conclusion is that there is no reliable evidence for scavenging by Neandertals or early modern humans.

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