Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory

, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 69–116 | Cite as

Sequential Incisions on a Cave Bear Bone from the Middle Paleolithic of Pešturina Cave, Serbia

  • Ana MajkićEmail author
  • Francesco d’Errico
  • Stefan Milošević
  • Dušan Mihailović
  • Vesna Dimitrijević


We present the detailed analysis of a cervical vertebra from a cave bear, found at Pešturina cave, Serbia, in a Mousterian archaeological level dated by radiocarbon at 43.5–44.6 kyr cal BP, and by ESR to between 93.5 and 102.5 kyr BP. Identified as a portion of the cranial articular facet, the fragment displays ten subparallel grooves. The microscopic study of these grooves and other surface modification present on the bone fragment, conducted with multifocus optical and confocal microscopes and complemented by a taphonomic analysis of the associated faunal assemblage, supports the hypothesis that the incisions were made by humans. Results are used to critically examine ambiguities implicit in the analysis and interpretation of early engravings, a category of material culture that has been playing a key role in the identification of early instances of symbolically mediated behavior.


Engravings Neanderthals Mousterian Taphonomy Early graphic expressions Symbolism 



We express our gratitude to Milica Lopičić-Mitrović, Department of Archaeology of the University of Belgrade for her help in obtaining the export permits for the archaeological material. Our thanks also go to Lucinda Backwell, Dominique Armand, Patrick Auguste, Aleta Guadelli, Jean-Luc Guadelli, and Myriam Boudadi-Maligne for insightful discussions and helpful advices. We are grateful to Marylène Patou-Mathis, Département de Préhistoire du Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, Stèphane Madelaine, Musée National de Préhistoire, Les Eyzies-de-Tayac, Teodora Radišić, Laboratory for Bioarchaeology, Museum of Vojvodina, Novi Sad, and Jan Wagner, Department of Paleontology, National Museum, Prague for giving access to axes kept in their institutions or providing us with the relevant measurements. The authors thank the National Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments of Serbia for the temporary export of the object (under the export permit No. 0034) for research purposes at the UMR 5199 PACEA laboratory of the University of Bordeaux. Thanks are also due to the reviewers for their useful comments and suggestions. Financial support to AM came from the Wenner-Gren Foundation. This research was also funded by the European Research Council Advanced Grant, TRACSYMBOLS No. 249587 awarded under the FP7 program. Excavations and analyses of Pešturina are supported by grants from the Ministry of Culture and Information and the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Serbia, project no. 177023, and project no. III 47001.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ana Majkić
    • 1
    Email author
  • Francesco d’Errico
    • 1
    • 2
  • Stefan Milošević
    • 3
  • Dušan Mihailović
    • 4
  • Vesna Dimitrijević
    • 3
    • 4
  1. 1.CNRS UMR 5199, PACEAUniversité de BordeauxPessac CEDEXFrance
  2. 2.Evolutionary Studies Institute and DST/NRF Centre of Excellence in Palaeosciences, and School of GeosciencesUniversity of the WitwatersrandJohannesburgSouth Africa
  3. 3.Laboratory for Bioarchaeology, Faculty of PhilosophyUniversity of BelgradeBelgradeSerbia
  4. 4.Department of Archaeology, Faculty of PhilosophyUniversity of BelgradeBelgradeSerbia

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