Notable: Sima de los Huesos taphonomy

Notable paper: Sala, Nohemi, Juan-Luis Arsuaga, Ignacio Martínez and Ana Gracia-Téllez (2015) Breakage patterns in Sima de los Huesos (Atapuerca, Spain) hominin sample. Journal of Archaeological Science (early online) doi:10.1016/j.jas.2015.01.002

Synopsis: The Sima de los Huesos contains the largest sample of Pleistocene hominin fossils anywhere in the world, with more than 6000 specimens, which are broken parts of the bones of more than 30 individuals. Sala and colleagues examined the breakage patterns in these bone fragments to understand how they were altered at or after the hominins’ deaths. They found that the overall pattern matches

Interesting because: An earlier study (Andrews and Fernández-Jalvo 1997) had shown that “green” fractures were equally common as dry bone fractures in the sample, making it look like most of the bones had been broken before or shortly after death. That led to dramatic reconstructions of the events accompanying the deposition of the skeletal remains. Sala and colleagues were able to look at the vastly larger sample of bones that have been uncovered during the last 20 years, finding that the apparent green fractures are mostly found within superficial layers of the deposit. Those might have been caused by carnivore trampling or chewing on the bones, with some evidence of tooth marks on the hominin bone. But the majority of the deposit has fracture patterns consistent with sediment compression and shifting.

Other reference

Andrews P, Fernández-Jalvo Y. (1997) Surface modifications of the Sima de los Huesos fossil humans Journal of Human Evolution, 33:191–217. doi:10.1006/jhev.1997.0137