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Identifying the bone-breaker at the Navalmaíllo Rock Shelter (Pinilla del Valle, Madrid) using machine learning algorithms


In recent years, reports on bone breakage at archaeological sites have become more common in the taphonomic literature. The present work tests a recently published method, based on the use of machine learning algorithms for analysing the processes involved in bone breakage, to identify the agent that broke the bones of medium-sized animals at the Mousterian Navalmaíllo Rock Shelter (Pinilla del Valle, Madrid). This is the first time this method has been used in an archaeological setting. The results show that these bones were mostly broken by anthropic action, while some were slightly ravaged by carnivores, probably hyaenas. These findings agree very well with published interpretations of the site, and show the method used to be useful in taphonomic studies of archaeological materials with poorly preserved cortical surfaces.

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The authors are grateful to the Pinilla del Valle research team for archaeopalaeontological discussions, especially A. Abrunhosa, A. Álvarez, D. Álvarez-Lao, M.A. Galindo-Pellicena, N. García-García and M.C. Ortega. The authors are very grateful to those who assisted during the experimental phase, particularly Alicia Caboblanco for her assistance, and Cárnicas DIBE S.L., which provided all the carcasses used in the preparation of the set 1 material. Special thanks are owed to M. Domínguez-Rodrigo who assisted with the statistical analysis. The authors also thank Adrian Burton for language and editing assistance.


AM is funded by a grant from the Junta de Castilla y León financed in turn by the European Social Funds through the Consejería de Educación (BDNS 376062). This research was conducted as part of competitive projects PGC 2018-094125-B-100 (MCIU/AEI/FEDER, UE), PGC 2018-093925-B-C32 (MICINN-FEDER), AGAUR (2017SGR1040), URV (2014, 2015 and 2016 PFR-URV-B2-17) and funded by the I+D activities program for research groups run by the Education Secretariat of the Madrid Regional Government. The study was also partly funded by the Museo Arqueológico Regional de la Comunidad de Madrid (MAR), Grupo Mahou and Canal de Isabel II-Gestión. This work is a contribution to the Valle de los Neandertales project (H2019/HUM-5840) funded by the Comunidad de Madrid and the Fondo Social Europeo.

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Moclán, A., Huguet, R., Márquez, B. et al. Identifying the bone-breaker at the Navalmaíllo Rock Shelter (Pinilla del Valle, Madrid) using machine learning algorithms. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 12, 46 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-020-01017-1

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  • Taphonomy
  • Machine learning
  • Fracture planes
  • Middle Palaeolithic
  • Navalmaíllo Rock Shelter