Oliver's point about the dearth of active scavengers in modern UK is
well taken (though foxes do their best to make up for the shortfall!).
Answering Juha's query really needs to start with the general sources
and work outwards. Lyman's Vertebrate Taphonomy has already been
recommended, and Oxbow have just published Biosphere to Lithosphere, a
compilation of papers on bone taphonomy from the 2002 ICAZ conference.
For those who haven't found it yet, the on-line Journal of Taphonomy
also has pertinent papers, alongside ones on brachiopods and trilobites.
The truthful answer to Juha's question is that we don't really know, but
we have some understanding of some of the processes involved. If I may
be excused a digression into Rumsfeldisch, there will also be some
unknown unknowns; factors that we don't even realise that we ought to
know about but don't. And that is what makes vertebrate taphonomy so
From: Analysis of animal remains from archaeological sites
[mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Oliver Brown
Sent: 09 March 2005 00:56
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: [ZOOARCH] Juha Savolainen's query
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 faunal remains.
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 29:52-70.
> 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
> 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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