Taphonomy: Post-Depositional Effects of Carnivores on Skeletal Remains

    A faunal study was conducted in an attempt to help document "taphonomic" processes, or those forces which affect animal bone in the archaeological record. This is a critical concern in cases where post-depositional forces may alter the nature of skeletal remains at sites, and thus the interpretations of issues such as human diet and resource procurement strategies.

     A director of ACS (Dorothy N. Walwer) conducted an experiment gauging the effects of carnivores on skeletal remains. Large quantities of recently defleshed animal bone were distributed to different carnivores in the St. Louis Zoo in Missouri, including lions, tigers, cheetahs, jaguars, and spectacled bear. The bones were subsequently collected and examined through a binocular microscope in order to record patterns of gnaw marks. Carnivore gnaw marks tend to occur at the articular ends of bones, affecting proportions of skeletal elements recovered from archaeological sites.


Gnaw marks from a jaguar

    Different animals leave different types of gnaw marks on bone depending upon the characteristics of their dentition and feeding behavior. Rodents, for instance, tend to leave wide, flat channels across all parts of a bone, while many carnivores tend to leave deeper U-shaped striations on the articular ends which may become completely consumed. This variability can translate into a skewed skeletal profile for an archaeological assemblage, and in turn may distort interpretations of hunter-gatherer procurement and processing methods. Further, a distinction between carnivore gnaw marks and human-derived, V-shaped cut marks from lithic tools is essential, as both tend to be concentrated towards articular ends of skeletal elements. This study resulted in the production of a useful visual guide delineating the effects of different taphonomic processes, thereby allowing analysts to more accurately reconstruct past patterns of human dietary behavior.

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