Forgive me for replying to Juha's query onlist (if that's a word), but I suspect
that this may be of interest to a few.
More often than not it seems that diagenesis is seen as the major cause for
absences from faunal records, but field research in many places continues to
show scavenging to account for the removal/destruction of the vast majority of
In two contrasting studies:
- Behrensmeyer & al (at Amboseli, Kenya) compared extant bird species and sizes
with surface collections of bones and found that smaller species were less well
represented in the bones and suggested that this was because the bones of
smaller birds are more fragile and therefore break down sooner.
- In some of my research (semi-arid inland NSW) looking at the fates of bird
carcasses between 9 and 420 grams and a number of other larger carcasses found
that most animal remains are very quickly removed by scavengers but that
removal was far greater for smaller remains.
Interestingly, when both are graphed with weight and presence/absence (albeit at
different timescales) as the two axes, they are very similar.
So, we have different explanations for what is essentially the same phenomenon -
and what is as far as I can see, the crux of Juha's question. This in turn
suggests that while I doubt that there is an archaeozoologist out there who
doesn't have some kind of answer for Juha, I doubt that any two of those
answers are often the same.
A quick final point for a largely British audience:
- In a country where the sight of a kite, raven or eagle is now greeted with
great excitement outside of Wales or Scotland; dogs and pigs (once
free-ranging) are safely behind fences; and larger facultatively scavenging
predators are locally extinct, the role of scavengers in shaping faunal
assemblages would be very easy to underestimate.
REF: Behrensmeyer, A. K., C. T. Stayton, and R. E. Chapman. 2003. Taphonomy and
ecology of modern avifaunal remains from Amboseli Park, Kenya. Paleobiology
> Dear Zooarch,
> My name is Juha Savolainen and unlike almost all (?) the list members, I =
> am a complete layman in zooarchaeology/archaeozoology (actually, I earn =
> my living by teaching philosophy and critical thinking, if that is of =
> any interest to anybody). I have been a lurker here for more than two =
> years and I have greatly admired the spirit of friendly cooperation that =
> is evident here (and so rare in many scholarly and scientific =
> communities). I have a rather general question that has vexed my mind =
> for some time and I would be very pleased if Zooarch could cast some =
> illumination on this question.
> Briefly, we all know that there is no simple and uniform relationship =
> between the preservation of animal remains (bones etc.) and the =
> representation of such animals in historical documents, pictures, =
> figurines etc. in geographical areas at specified time periods. However, =
> it seems to me that there is no simple and uniform relationship between =
> the preservation of animal remains and the presence of such animals in =
> geographical areas at specified time periods either. So, if this is so, =
> may I ask you what are the main causes contributing to this differential =
> preservation of faunal remains?
> Best regards,
> Juha Savolainen
Archaeology, A22, University of Sydney, 2006, NSW
lab:(02) 9036 5127 / mob: 0427 279 675 / hm: 9665 2073
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