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The rediscovery of two Upper Palaeolithic skeletons from Baousso da Torre cave (Liguria-Italy).

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News and Views
The Rediscovery of Two Upper Palaeolithic
Skeletons From Baousso da Torre Cave
Sébastien Villotte* and
Dominique Henry-Gambier
Laboratoire d’Anthropologie des Populations
du Passé (LAPP, UMR 5199),
Université Bordeaux 1, 33405
Talence, France
Baousso da Torre is one of the caves of the Balzi Rossi,
an important Italian Palaeolithic locality on the Mediterranean coast near Menton on the border between France
and Italy. Intensive excavations between 1870 and 1905
yielded several hundred thousand archaeological
remains including lithic and bone tools, faunal remains,
art objects, ornaments, burials, and human bones
(Rivière, 1887; Villeneuve, 1906; Mussi, 2001). Despite
rather disparate data of unequal value, excavations
revealed a stratigraphic sequence spanning from the
Middle Palaeolithic to the Late Upper Palaeolithic. During these excavations, the remains of 16 Upper Palaeolithic individuals were recovered from single, double,
and triple burials in four caves: Barma del Caviglione,
Barma Grande, Grotte des Enfants, and Baousso da
Torre (Verneau, 1906; Mussi, 1986; Henry-Gambier,
2001). A few scattered bones were also found. Two of the
three skeletons discovered by Rivière in the Baousso da
Torre cave (BT1 and BT3) were lost for more 80 years.
The present article concerns their rediscovery.
Beginning in 1871, Emile Rivière excavated at the
Balzi Rossi, particularly in Barma del Caviglione and in
the Grotte des Enfants, where he discovered primary
burials in both sites. He found an adult (BC1) in Barma
del Caviglione and two children (GE1, GE2) buried together in the Grotte des Enfants (Henry-Gambier, 2001).
In February 1873 in Baousso da Torre, he discovered the
first adult skeleton, BT1, at 3.75 m1; the 3rd of June, a
second adult skeleton, BT2, at 3.90 m and the 5th of
June a third skeleton, BT3, between 3.80 and 3.90 m
(Rivière, 1887). BT2 was transported with sediments
and transferred by train to the ‘‘Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle’’ (Paris) for restoration and consolidation.
In 1932, BT2 was purchased by the then ‘‘musée des
Antiquités nationales’’ (now the ‘‘musée d’Archéologie
nationale’’) at Saint-Germain-en-Laye where it is housed
today. BT1 and BT3 (less well preserved than BT1)
would stay in Rivière’s collection. After his death, his
collection was auctioned at the ‘‘Hôtel Drouot’’ in Paris
in 1922, and since that time, BT1 and BT3, as well as a
The depths are indicated from initial ground level.
C 2009
great part of Rivière’s collection, have been missing. One
of us (D.H.G) was able to identify one of the buyers, G.
Goury (1877–1959), a prehistorian and collector. From
1920 to 1927, Goury served as curator of the ‘‘Musée
Lorrain’’ in Nancy. In 1955, he donated his collection to
this same museum. In 2008, a research mission to study
the Goury Collection allowed us to recognize human
remains (Figs. 1–3) among archaeological material such
as faunal remains, shells (see Fig. 4), and flint tools.
We do not know if the excavation records (note-books,
photos, drawings) were sold with the archaeological material at the Hôtel Drouot auction. There is some indication that these documents were destroyed at the time of
either Rivière’s or Goury’s death. Fortunately, there are
other indications that the human bones are those of BT1
and BT3.
1. The presence of labels in Rivière’s handwriting giving
the name of the bone, its depth, and ‘‘6e caverne’’ (6th
cave) which designates the Baousso da Torre cave in
Rivière’s numbering system.
2. The bones are of two different individuals.
3. The inventory of the Goury collection corresponds to
the one published by Rivière (1887) for BT1 and BT3.
4. Rivière (1887) published accurate descriptions of the
biological features of BT1 and BT3. According to Rivière, BT1 is an adult male and BT3 an adolescent: the
human bones of the Goury collection are those of an
adult and an adolescent. Many anatomical and osteometric features are similar. For instance, it is possible
to recognize on the right radius of BT1 a ‘‘tubérosité
bicipitale, très accusée, [qui] se subdivise pour ainsi
dire et forme une sorte de gouttière triangulaire . . .’’2
(Rivière, 1887, p. 207; Fig. 2c). The dimensions measured by Rivière are compatible with those we have
‘‘Bicipital tuberosity, easy to notice, [that] subdivides so to speak and
forms something that looks like a triangular gutter’’ (Rivière, 1887,
p. 207).
Grant sponsor: ANR GUEROPE directed by L. Baray (UMR 5594); Grant
number: 06-CONF-0008-01; Grant sponsor: Transition program directed
by B. Maureille and J.G. Bordes (UMR 5199); Grant number:
*Correspondence to: Sébastien Villotte, Laboratoire d’Anthropologie des Populations du Passé (LAPP, UMR 5199), Université Bordeaux 1, Bat B8 avenue des Facultés 33405 Talence, France.
Received 15 May 2009; accepted 14 July 2009
DOI 10.1002/ajpa.21164
Published online 9 November 2009 in Wiley InterScience
Fig. 1. Baousso da Torre 1. a: Posterior view of the occipital
bone and left parietal bone; b: anterior view of the right zygomatic bone and fragment of maxillary bone. [Color figure can be
viewed in the online issue, which is available at www.interscience.]
measured (Table 1). Any differences that exist
between older and more recent measurements are
likely due to the increased fragmentation of the skeletal remains incurred during transport, curation, and
storage over the intervening years between Rivière’s
original analyses and ours.
5. The state of preservation of the bone and the degradations described by Rivière agree with our observations. For instance it is possible to observe on a right
femur from the Goury collection the tooth-marks (carnivore or rodent) reported by Rivière on the right femur of BT1 (Fig. 2b).
6. Rivière emphasized the great quantity of red ochre on
the bones of BT1 and the lack of coloring on the bones
of BT3, exactly what we have observed on the bones
of the Goury Collection (Figs. 1–3).
Fig. 2. Baoussa da Torre 1. a: Anterior view of the left femur; b: tooth-marks (carnivore or rodent) on the right femur
bone; c: right radius bone (tuberositas radii), anterior view.
[Color figure can be viewed in the online issue, which is available at]
to each cave and to the stratigraphical levels described
by Rivière is very difficult. For instance, the collection of
shells includes some associated with BT1 but also BT2
and probably shells found isolated by Rivière in the
Barma del Caviglione (Rivière, 1887).
Since the discovery, the loss of material has been limited, the most important being that of the disappearance
of the mandible of BT1. Several human bones not
described by Rivière and attributable without any doubt
to BT1 or BT3 have also been identified. Recent breakage is frequent (Figs. 2a and 3a). The bones of BT1 are
better preserved than those of BT3, with bone texture
being compact and surfaces unaltered. There are just a
few marks of restoration (plaster or glue). However, the
BT1 skeleton is fragmentary: skull (see Fig. 1), axial
region, pelvic, and shoulder girdles are very badly preserved. In contrast, the femur (Fig. 2a), tibia, humerus,
radius, and ulna are almost complete; hand and foot
bones are fairly well preserved. The adolescent skeleton,
BT3, shows several restoration marks (glue, plaster, and
others). The bones are fragile and the skeleton is mainly
represented by the maxillary, the left femur (Fig. 3a),
and foot bones.
Almost all of the lithic tools, faunal bones, mineral
fragments (hematite), and perforated shells (see Fig. 4)
bought by Goury come from the Balzi Rossi, according to
the labels on the material itself and to the descriptions
of it provided in Rivière’s book (1887). But since Rivière
was convinced that the infilling of all the caves of Balzi
Rossi was contemporaneous (Rivière, 1887), he combined
all the archaeological material. Attributing this material
American Journal of Physical Anthropology
Fig. 3. Baousso da Torre 3. a: Anterior view of the left femur bone; b: anterior view of the left maxillary; c: radiography
of the left maxillary. [Color figure can be viewed in the online
issue, which is available at]
Fig. 4. Balzi Rossi, set of perforated shells. [Color figure can be viewed in the online issue, which is available at www.]
were tested by H. Bocherens et D. Drucker (Universität Tübingen Institut für Geowissenschaften) to
measure the amount of carbon and nitrogen in the
whole bone as a proxy for collagen preservation and
extraneous contamination (Bocherens et al., 2005).
None contained collagen. A tooth fragment (BT3) was
tested in the radiocarbon Laboratory of the Centre for
Isotopic research (University of Gröningen, Nether-
The bones of Baousso da Torre 1 and 3 and a part of
the tools and shells have been transferred to the LAPP
at the University of Bordeaux 1 (PACEA 5199). These
exceptional finds are in large part unpublished and the
main publication is a very partial study published by
Rivière in 1887 so these skeletons raise many questions:
1. The first concerns the stratigraphic age and the
archaeological context. Information on the archaeostratigraphic infilling of Baousso da Torre cave indicate the following sequence: Mousterian, Early Aurignacian, Gravettian, and Epigravettian. The skeletons
were discovered at the base of the Upper Palaeolithic
levels (Rivière, 1887; Villeneuve, 1906). An earlier
Upper Palaeolithic age is consistent with their stratigraphic position above the Mousterian level between
3.80 m and 4.00 m. They are generally attributed at
the Gravettian culture (Mussi, 1986), but there were
Mousterian, Early Aurignacian and Gravettian artefacts mixed in the burial level (Rivière, 1887). A
Gravettian age for these skeletons is more likely. In
that case the burials would be intrusive into the
Aurignacian levels. Mixture between levels could also
reflect taphonomic processes (Henry-Gambier, 2001).
Recent analyses of stone tools from the Balzi Rossi
show evidence of several Gravettian and Epigravettian occupations (Palma di Cesnola, 1976; Onoratini
and Da Silva, 1978) dated from 28,000 BP to 10,000
BP (Henry-Gambier, 2001; Formicola et al., 2004).
Direct radiocarbon dating of the skeletons was conducted to clarify the chronological and cultural position of the skeletons. Small samples of femur (BT1)
and humerus (BT3) without any trace of contaminant
TABLE 1. Comparison between original Baousso da Torre 1 and
3 measurements (Rivière, 1887) and our data
Adult (BT1)
L. Scapula
R. Humerus
Max. L.
of the distal
Max. L.
Max. L.
Max. L.
Max. L.
Max. L.
Max. L.
Max. L.
Max. L.
Max. L. of the
proximal part
the head)
Max. L.
L. Humerus
L. Radius
R. Femur
L. Femur
R. Tibia
L. Tibia
R. Humerus
R. Ulna
R. Femur
L. Femur
Max. L., maximum length of the fragment.
In mm (estimated measurements are in parentheses).
American Journal of Physical Anthropology
lands). The collagen content was too low to obtain a
reliable date. A similar result was obtained several
years ago on a rib fragment of BT2. Consequently, an
accurate cultural attribution for the skeletons of
Baousso da Torre requires verifying sparse stratigraphic data from Rivière (1887) against new data
concerning archaeological material (tools, shells, bone
implements) from the Rivière/Goury collection associated with each skeleton. This is one of the first challenges of the study we are currently undertaking.
2. Other questions concern the morphology and the pathology of these skeletons, the bones having been only
briefly described (Rivière, 1887). The issue is important because human remains are relatively scarce for
the earlier Upper Palaeolithic from Western Europe.
Although restoration must take place before more
complete analysis can proceed, it is nonetheless possible to observe that BT1 is a very robust male adult
(according to population-specific discriminant analyses; see Villotte, 2008). Dental development (upper canine apex open) and skeletal maturation reveals an
age at death for BT3 of ca 12 years (see Fig. 3).
3. For most researchers, BT1, 2 and 3 are primary burials but Rivière (1887) did not exclude the possibility
that the skeletal disturbances observed for the three
individuals were related to the original funerary
behavior. Taphonomic study of the bones may help
identify the disturbing agent(s) and to understand the
history of these deposits.
4. As many as 12 burials were discovered in the caves of
Balzi Rossi. There are various hypotheses concerning
mortuary practices, selection of those to be buried,
and on the circumstance and cause of the death (Villeneuve, 1906; Verneau, 1906; Mussi et al., 1989;
Henry-Gambier, 2001, in press; Formicola, 2007). A
comprehensive approach to the human remains from
Baousso da Torre will provide new data to help answer these questions.
The authors thank the two reviewers, the editor-inchief and the associate editor for their detailed and useful comments. The authors also thank the Musée Lorrain (Nancy, France), the MAN (Saint Germain-en-Laye,
American Journal of Physical Anthropology
France), and J. Bellue and R. White for the help to
translating the original French text.
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et du collagène pour les mesures isotopiques (datation au
radiocarbone, isotopes stables du carbone et de l’azote).
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Formicola V. 2007. From the Sunghir children to the Romito
Dwarf. Aspects of the Upper Paleolithique funerary landscape. Curr Anthropol 48:446–452.
Formicola V, Pettitt PB, Del Lucchese A. 2004. A direct AMS
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Mussi M, Frayer DW, Macchiarelli R. 1989. Les vivants et les morts.
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Ph.D. thesis, Physical Anthropology. Talence: Bordeaux 1 University.
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