Microscopic criteria for the determination of directionality of cutmarks on bone

Timothy G. Bromage, Alan Boyde

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Shipman and Rose (1983) have recently attracted attention to the fact that the determination of directionality of cutmarks could possibly provide additional evidence for interpretation of early hominid butchering practices and handedness. They found no criteria of directionality, however. We have previously recognized directionality in cut dental tissues and more recently in bone, and so we undertook a study of over 200 experimentally produced cutmarks on bovine bone by scanning electron microscopy. Three criteria of directionality were observed: bone smears, oblique faulting, and oblique chipping. In our analysis we considered properties of bone as a relevant variable in the microscopic appearance of cutmarks, which has also led to the new finding that not all marks made by a single tool under similar conditions are the same. We observed that bone smears occurred in most specimens, relatively low density forming bone surfaces facilitated oblique fault production, whereas oblique chipping frequently occurred in plexiform bone tissue common to growing artiodactyls. In this study, handedness of the operator could be determined from cutmarks, but much further experimental work will be required in order to detail the criteria.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)359-366
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1984


  • Cutmarks
  • Directionality
  • Hominid behavior
  • SEM
  • Stone tool
  • Taphonomy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Anthropology


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