Low-Survival Skeletal Elements Track Attrition, Not Carcass Transport Behavior in Quaternary Large Mammal Assemblages



Zooarchaeological analyses of carcass transport behavior require methodologies that control for the effects of density-mediated attrition on skeletal element abundances. Taphonomic observations suggest that based on differences in bone structure and density, large mammal skeletal elements can be divided into a high-survival subset of skeletal elements that more accurately reflects what was originally deposited, and a low-survival subset that does not. In this chapter we explore the applicability of this model of bone survivorship across 43 Quaternary large mammal assemblages from Africa (n = 33) and Eurasia (n = 10). We demonstrate that attrition explains a substantial degree of variation in low-survival element abundances, with nearly all low-survival elements affected. Because attrition severely overprints any potential signature of differential bone transport by humans, it follows that only the high-survival elements of large mammals are suitable for making behavioral inferences from skeletal element abundances. This supports predictions made from actualistic taphonomic observations.


Bone density Density-mediated attrition Differential survivorship High-survival elements Skeletal part profiles Taphonomy 



The authors wish to thank Ali Murad Büyüm and Jennifer Gutierrez, who assisted in processing MNE counts for the BBC and PP13B assemblages. We thank Christina Giovas for inviting us to contribute this chapter and the editors and anonymous reviewers for their helpful feedback. JTF is supported by an Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Research Fellowship.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Natural History Museum of Utah and Department of AnthropologyUniversity of UtahSalt Lake CityUSA
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyEmory UniversityAtlantaUSA

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