So it's with great interest that I saw a paper by Jörg Orschiedt (2008), in the latest issue of Quartär. It's in German, but the English abstract reads as follows:
The Krapina case – New results on the question of cannibalism of Neanderthals.
The human skeletal remains from Krapina / Croatia of almost 900 fragments have been considered for a long time as a proof of Neanderthal cannibalism. Although this opinion was frequently criticised, the fragmentary nature and traces of manipulations on the skeletal remains were mentioned as evidence. Several investigations resulted in contradicting interpretations whether the condition of the human remains are the result of burial activities or ritual cannibalism. The re-examination of the skeletal remains was carried out in order to put a closer look to the breakage patterns and the cut marks. The revision of the inventory of human remains shows that certain skeletal elements like the facial skeleton, skull base, hand- and foot bones as well as vertebrae are underrepresented or missing. It seems therefore unlikely that the bodies were buried in anatomical connection. The investigation also proved that the breakage patterns were not caused by human activity. Although several bones especially the long bone diaphysis, clavicles and pelvis fragments display breakage patterns related to perimortem breakage like spiral fractures, any kind of human activity is absent. In fact the breakage is related to sediment pressure, particularly to rock fall, and carnivore activities. Damage on bones caused by carnivore activity is well visible by bite marks on long bone fragments and on Cranium 3.Any detailed analysis of the cut marks is problematic, since the bones were covered with shellac. Therefore, the analysis by a scanning electron microscope did not yield any significant result. The study of the cut marks revealed serious doubt on their nature. The macroscopic investigation, however, showed that the traces are not consistent regarding their orientation and location with traces commonly related to disarticulation and dismemberment activities. Cut marks related to this kind of activity usually occur in areas of muscle attachments and joints. Several cut marks show evidence for a recent origin. The most striking evidence for this is found on a long bone splinter of a diaphysis. The cut marks located on this fragment cut through the “F” [for femur] written in ink of the bone. The shellac was added only later covering the bone. It seems possible in only two cases that cut marks on two scapulae were caused by dismembering activities. The well known Cranium 3 exhibits possible cut marks on the frontal bone, which might indicate skinning activities like the removal of the scalp. Nevertheless the position and the small size of the marks fail to prove such an activity. A ritual behaviour might be a possible explanation.
If this taphonomic analysis is correct, it certainly throws a sizable wrench into the argument for one of the most celebrated cases for Neanderthal cannibalism. The possible evidence for scalping is also very intriguing.
Defleur, A., T. White, P. Valensi, L. Slimak, and É. Crégut-Bonnoure. 1999. Neanderthal Cannibalism at Moula-Guercy, Ardèche, France. Science 286:128-131.
Frayer, D. W. 2006. The Krapina Neandertals. A Comprehensive, Centennial, Illustrated Bibliography. Zagreb: Croatian Natural History Museum.
Orschiedt, J. 2008. Der Fall Krapina – Neue Ergebnisse zur Frage von Kannibalismus beim Neandertaler. Quartär 55:63-81. (with English abstract).