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Carnivore alteration of human bone from a late prehistoric site in illinois.

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AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PHYSICAL ANTHROPOLOGY 79:43-49(1989)
Carnivore Alteration of Human Bone From a Late Prehistoric Site
in Illinois
GEORGE R. MILNER AND VIRGINIA G. SMITH
Department of Anthropology, The Pennsylvania State Uniuersity, University
Park, Pennsylvania 16802 (G.R. M.); Department of Anthropology,
University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky 40506 (KG.S.)
KEY WORDS
Taphonomy, Human bone, Oneota
ABSTRACT
The nature and pattern of destruction of human bone by
scavenging animals, probably canids, is described for 30 Oneota skeletons from
a west-central Illinois cemetery dated at ca. A.D. 1300. The most frequently
damaged parts of the skeleton include bones covered by relatively little soft
tissue, such as the major joints of the limbs, and those in the facial, abdominal,
and gluteal regions.
Over the past several decades, researchers
in several disciplines have directed increased
attention toward the taphonomic processes
affecting bones in archaeological and paleontological assemblages (Behrensmeyer, 1976;
Gifford, 1981; Johnson, 1985; Shipman, 1981;
Shipman and Rose, 1983). Important aspects
of this research have included studies of the
disintegration and dispersal of mammalian
skeletons, including the nature of damage
attributable to carnivores and scavengers
(Binford, 1981; Bonnichsen and Will, 1980;
Brain, 1981;Bunn, 1981;Haynes, 1980,1982,
1983, 1985; Hill, 1976, 1980; Klippel et al.,
1987; Miller, 1969; Potts and Shipman, 1981;
Shipman, 1981; Shipman and Rose, 1983;
Sutcliffe, 1970),the differential susceptibility
of various skeletal elements to destruction
(Binford, 1981; Binford and Bertram, 1977;
Brain, 1981; Behrensmeyer and DechantBoaz, 1980; Haynes, 1982, 1985; Klippel et
al., 1987), and patterns of carcass disarticulation (Binford, 1981; Brain, 1981; Haynes,
1982, 1985; Hill, 1976, 1979a,b, 1980; Hill
and Behrensmeyer, 1984; Klippel et al., 1987;
Shipman and Phillips, 1976; Toots, 1965).
There is little published information, however, that specifically covers damage to human remains caused by carnivores and
scavengers (see comments in Maples, 1986;
Morse, 1983; Sutcliffe, 1970; Zimmerman et
al., 1981). This information is of importance
to the interpretation of early hominid finds
(Brain, 1970, 1981; Tobias, 1974), some archaeological human skeletal series (Milner
and Smith, n.d.; Owsley et al., 1977;Zimmer-
0 1989 ALAN R. LISS, INC.
man et al., 19811, and modern forensic cases
(Krogman and Iscan, 1986; Maples, 1986;
Morse, 1983).
The scavenger-induced alteration of human bone described here is based on an examination of 30 partial and complete
skeletons from a late prehistoric cemetery in
the American Midwest. The kinds of bone
damage and the sites of involvement on the
elements available for study are identified.
Since the initial collection and subsequent
burial of these remains were not conducted
under controlled conditions, it is not possible
to identify unambiguously the animals responsible for the damage or to assess the rate
of bone destruction, the differential loss of
entire skeletal elements, or the typical disarticulation sequence. The sample acquires
comparative significance, however, because
it is large, the surviving skeletal elements
are exceptionally well preserved, and the remains are drawn from one locality featuring
a single suite of possible scavengers.
THE SKELETAL SAMPLE
The study specimens are part of a collection of 264 skeletons from a carefully and
completely excavated Oneota burial mound
morris Farms #36) in west-central Illinois
dated at ca. A.D. 1300. Forty-three skeletons
(16% of the total) exhibited one or more of
the following characteristics: damage resulting from arrow wounds or blows from weapReceived January 25, 1988; revision accepted June 24, 1988.
44
G.R. MILNER AND V.G. SMITH
TABLE 1. Carniuoredamaged bones
Bone
Cranial
Mandibles
Clavicles
Scapulae
Humeri
Radii
Ulnae
Carpals
Metacarpals
Hand phalanges
Manubria
Sterna
Xiphoid processes
Ribs
Cervical vertebrae
Thoracic vertebrae
Lumbar vertebrae
Sacra
Coccyges
Innominates
Femora
Patellae
Tibiae
Fibulae
Calcanea
Other tarsals
Metatarsals
Foot phalanges
N Present N Damaged % Damaged
12
10
32
37
37
34
37
125
89
167
16
13
4
372
117
252
110
22
3
0
9
14
16
13
16
0
9
3
2
2
1
33
5
46
40
24
41
32
27
130
31
12
9
0
26
24
3
24
9
7
9
66
10
5
loo
2
25.0
0.0
28.1
37.8
43.2
38.2
43.2
0.0
10.1
1.8
12.5
15.4
25.0
8.9
4.3
12.3
10.9
40.9
0.0
56.5
60.0
12.5
58.5
28.1
25.9
6.9
2.0
15.2
‘The facial bones were reasonably intact in seven of the nine
crania that did not exhibit carnivore-related damage.
ons, including Celts; cut marks from scalping
or decapitation; cut marks from partial postcranial dismemberment; and small, conical
tooth impressions accompanied by extensive
destruction of cancellous bone and a splintering of the cortex attributable to scavenging
animals. These forms of bone destruction
were distinctly different from antemortem
osteolytic lesions (Ortner and Putschar, 1985;
Steinbock, 1976) and the fractures, warping,
surface erosion, and rodent gnawing that can
modify the appearance of bone long after
death (Behrensmeyer, 1978; Bonnichsen and
Will, 1980; Johnson, 1985; Miller, 1975; Shipman, 1981; Shipman and Rose, 1983). Differentiation of defects was facilitated by the
state of bone preservation where intact bone
surfaces permitted the identification of fine
anatomical detail (the skeletal series is described fully in Milner and Smith [n.d.]).
Forty-one of the 43 affected skeletons were
from individuals who were over the age of 15
years at the time of death. Thirty of these
adults displayed a postmortem modification
of bone attributable to scavenging animals.
These individuals were killed in intergroup
conflict, and occasionally they were partially
dismembered, as indicated by multiple cut
marks on selected skeletal elements. Their
remains were subsequently recovered and interred in the burial mound.
All bones in the skeletal series were examined for evidence of carnivore-induced alteration identified by criteria that closely
followed descriptions of damage by previous
researchers (Binford, 1981; Bonnichsen and
Will, 1980; Brain, 1981; Haynes, 1980, 1982,
1983, 1985; Hill, 1976, 1980; Miller, 1969;
Potts and Shipman, 1981; Shipman, 1981;
Shipman and Rose, 1983; Sutcliffe, 1970).
Only unambiguous examples of scavengerrelated bone destruction are included in
Tables 1 and 2, and this damage conformed
to the characteristics described below. Postmortem defects of undetermined origin, such
as localized areas of bone erosion or fragmentation, were not counted as having been
gnawed by scavengers. Identification of the
likely cause of bone destruction proved to be
consistently difficult only for broken ribs;
consequently, only relatively intact specimens were included in the counts presented
in the tables. Damage attributable to rodent
gnawing, which occurred occasionally, was
readily distinguishable from carnivore-related bone destruction, and it was not included in the tables.
DAMAGED BONES IN THE STUDY SAMPLE
Bone damage ranges from discrete or confluent puncture marks where cortical bone
had been penetrated to complete destruction
of significant portions of flat and irregularshaped bones as well a s the ends of long
bones (Figs. 1-4). Punctures are circular,
oval, or, less frequently, elongated depressions bordered by adherent fragments of cortex inclined toward the defect’s center. Many
of the discrete circular to oval defects appear
to have been made by canines.
A number of the circular to oval, shallow
puncture marks that penetrated thin cortical
bone probably approximate the dimensions
of the tips of the teeth, presumably canines,
responsible for damaging the bones. Small
fragments of cortex around the margins of
these defects are usually oriented approximately perpendicular to the bone surface.
These small fragments of adherent cortex
had been pressed into the interior of the bone
and deflected laterally, in many instances
producing well-defined walls. These particular defects measure several millimeters in
diameter (N = 67; length: X = 3.8 mm, s =
45
CARNIVORE DAMAGED HUMAN BONE
TABLE 2. Carnivore-damaged anatomical features of selected bones
Bone
Clavicles
Medial end
Lateral end
Scapulae
Acromion process
Coracoid process
Axillary border
Inferior angle
Vertebral border
Superior angle
Superior border
Humeri
Head
Greater tubercle
Medial epicondyle
Lateral epicondyle
Distal joint surface
Radii
Proximal end
Distal end
Ulnae
Proximal end
Distal end
Innominates
Anterior superior spine
Posterior superior spine
Iliac crest
Ischial tuberosity
Ischiopubic ramus
Pubic body
Superior pubic ramus
Femora
Head
Greater trochanter
Lesser trochanter
Distal end
Tibiae
Proximal end
Distal end
Fibulae
Proximal end
Distal end
N Present
N Damaged
% Damaged
32
32
4
7
12.5
21.9
37
35
34
32
26
26
23
10
2
27.0
5.7
2.9
34.4
7.7
7.7
8.7
36
36
37
37
37
1
11
2
2
2
5
8
6
3
13.9
11.1
21.6
16.2
8.1
34
34
7
10
20.6
29.4
37
37
13
9
35.1
24.3
45
44
45
43
43
41
44
15
7
12
17
9
7
5
33.3
15.9
26.7
39.5
20.9
17.1
11.4
9
4
40
40
40
40
3
23
22.5
27.5
7.5
57.5
41
41
19
16
46.3
39.0
30
32
7
7
23.3
21.9
0.9 mm, range = 2.3-6.7 mm; width: X = 2.9
mm, s = 0.7 mm, range = 1.7-4.7 mm). Penetration of the cortex, however, usually was
accompanied by the formation of irregular
cortical fragments with jagged edges that
were inclined at various angles toward the
point of impact. These defects varied in size,
but were typically several millimeters larger
than the well-defined punctures through thin
cortical bone.
Where the cortical bone is thick, the presence of small, shallow pits or linear troughs
indicate where individual teeth had crushed
but failed to penetrate the cortex. Occasionally a tooth apparently skidded across a n
area of extremely thin cortical bone, including that of many long bone epiphyses. These
excursions produced linear, broad, shallow,
11
more-or-less U-shaped bands of crushed cortex pressed into the spongy bone interior.
A coalescence of defects resulted in a rough
surface of broken bone composed of numerous spicules arising from the irregular edge
of intact cancellous bone as well as from dislodged, but still partially adherent, trabeculae and cortical bone splinters. Further
gnawing resulted in a considerable loss of
bony substance, particularly the removal of
cancellous bone. Sometimes a thin cortical
shell is all that remains of the end of a long
bone. The edges of extensively damaged
areas where teeth had penetrated the cortex
are frequently scalloped. Internally, the surface of damaged cancellous bone often exhibits shallow, conical depressions or linear,
U-shaped troughs. Multiple linear excava-
46
G.R. MILNER AND V.G. SMITH
Fig. 1. The medial epicondyle of the humerus is damaged. and a large puncture mark borders the coronoid
fossa.
tions through cancellous bone are often uniformly aligned and extend across much of the
damaged area.
Cortical surfaces adjacent to extensively
damaged ends of large diameter long bones
occasionally exhibit short, shallow, broad
grooves where teeth had apparently ground
into and skidded across the shaft’s surface.
Some grooves are oriented transversely,
whereas others extend longitudinally or
obliquely along the shaft for several millimeters before terminating at the edge of a n
extensively damaged area where both the
cortex and underlying spongy bone had been
destroyed. This point of intersection is sometimes marked by a semicircular indentation,
i.e., a tooth mark, a t the margin of the damaged area.
In the relatively few instances where most,
or all, of a long bone’s end had been destroyed, the removal of small fragments of
compact bone produced a jagged edge on the
surviving portion. Extensive splintering of
diaphyses is restricted to relatively few
bones, usually radii and ulnae with fragmented distal shafts. When this occurred, the
corresponding hand bones were not found
with the burial. This longitudinal and
oblique splintering is quite distinctive and
bears no resemblance to the kinds of fragmentation, such as transverse breaks, found
on bones broken long after burial. Cortical
bone is also splintered where portions of flat
bones, especially the ilia, and irregularly
shaped elements, such a s the vertebral trans-
Fig. 2. The caudal end of this sacrum is destroyed.
Note the scalloped inferior border and several puncture
marks.
verse and spinous processes, are extensively
damaged.
The number of bones present for examination and those displaying unambiguous evidence of scavenger-related damage are listed
in Table 1. Only certain portions of these
bones are consistently damaged (Table 2).
DISCUSSION
The sample provides indirect information
on animal feeding patterns, since the remains presumably originated as surface assemblages where scavenger-induced damage
was truncated at different stages by recovery
and subsequent burial. The distribution of
affected areas on the available skeletal elements, however, clearly indicates that certain portions of bones are more likely to be
damaged by gnawing than other parts of the
skeleton. Frequently damaged areas include
those in the vicinity of the abdomen, especially the anterior superior iliac spine and
iliac crest, and the gluteal region, including
the ischial tuberosities, the greater trochanter and head of the femur, and the caudal
end of the sacrum. Bones covered by little
soft tissue are also frequently damaged, including the bones of the face and those comprising the major joints of the upper and
lower limbs. The calcanea clearly illustrate
differential destruction attributable to their
anatomical position and structure. Some
specimens exhibited only minor damage in
the exposed distal portion of the bone,
whereas others featured extensive damage
CARNIVORE DAMAGED HUMAN BONE
47
Fig. 3. The cancellous bone of this tibia has been
scooped out, undercutting the more resistant cortical
bone, and several shallow, transverse excavations
through the spongy bone interior are visible.
Fig. 4. This distal femur displays several discrete
puncture marks and an extensively destroyed medial
surface bordered by a scalloped margin.
resulting in the loss of all but more-or-less
intact anterior and superior articular
surfaces.
Significant underenumeration of damaged
ribs, the bones of the hands and feet, and
coccygeal elements is likely. Many ribs are
fragmented, especially distally, but only
specimens with unambiguous scavenger-related alterations were counted as damaged
elements. Definite gnawing damage, including conical defects or small, semicircular
fractures along bone margins, occurred most
often on the distal ends of the ribs. Presumably, hands and feet were frequently gnawed
as well. The nature of damage on surviving
elements, however, suggests that gnawing
often resulted in the complete destruction or
dispersal of these bones by scavengers. The
likelihood of recovery for burial of appreciable numbers of damaged hand and foot bones,
therefore, would have been diminished. Certainly these particular bones are underrepresented in this skeletal sample. Finally,
coccygeal elements often would have been
destroyed by the gnawing that resulted in
damage to the sacrum, since sacral destruction was most pronounced at the caudal end
of the bone.
Identification of the animals responsible for
the damage rests on the nature of destruction and the fauna conceivably present in
late prehistoric, west-central Illinois. Over-
all, the appearance of the damaged areas and
the sites of involvement conform closely to
descriptions of nonhuman mammalian bones
subjected to gnawing by canids, especially
wolves and dogs (Binford, 1981; Brain, 1981;
Haynes, 1980, 1982, 1985). The extent of destruction is consistent with that reported for
bones found a t canid kill sites in contrast
with the more highly fragmented elements,
which often exhibit eroded surfaces, recovered from wolf dens and human camps
frequented by dogs (Binford, 1981; Haynes,
1982; Klippel et al., 1987). Dogs, coyotes, and
wolves were present in late prehistoric Illinois (Purdue and Styles, 19861, and it is likely
that some or all of these animals were responsible for most of the scavenger-induced
damage in this skeletal collection. Other
scavenging animals may have contributed to
the postmortem destruction of bone as well.
The pattern of bone destruction is similar
to the damage reported by Zimmerman et al.
(1981) for a late prehistoric, South Dakota
skeletal series consisting of individuals who
had been killed and whose remains were subsequently gnawed by scavengers, probably
canids. In addition, modern human skeletons
exhibiting similar damage, also attributed to
dogs, have been recovered in forensic fieldwork in Kentucky (personal communication,
David J. Wolf; one of the authors [V.G.S.] has
examined many of these specimens).
48
G.R. MILNER A ND V.G. SMITH
dnvai Gorge. Nature 291574-577.
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cal review of archaeology’s sister disciplines. In MB
Schiffer (ed.): Advances in Archaeological Method and
human bones from a n archaeological site in
Theory, Vol. 4. New York: Academic Press, pp. 365the American Midwest follows a consistent
438.
pattern where certain parts of the skeleton
G (1980) Evidence of carnivore gnawing on Pleisare damaged before other elements. The Haynes
tocene and recent mammalian bones. Paleobiology
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6:341-351.
ends of long bones, where there is generally Haynes G (1982) Utilization and skeletal disturbances of
North American prey carcasses. Arctic 35266-281.
little covering soft tissue, and the bones in
the vicinity of the facial, abdominal, and glu- Haynes G (1983) Frequencies of spiral and green-bone
fractures on ungulate limb bones in modern surface
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Hill AP (1979a) Butchery and natural disarticulation:
An investigatory technique. Am. Antiquity 44:739The excavation of the Norris Farms #36
744.
site was conducted by Illinois State Museum
AP (197910) Disarticulation and scattering of mamarchaeologists and supported by the Illinois Hill
mal skeletons. Paleobiology 5261-274.
Department of Transportation. This study of Hill AP (1980) Early postmortem damage to the remains
the skeletons was facilitated by the generous
of some contemporary East African mammals. In AK
Behrensmeyer and AP Hill (eds.): Fossils in the Makloan of the collection to the senior author by
ing: Vertebrate Taphonomy and Paleoecology. Chithe Illinois State Museum. We thank David
cago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 131-152.
J. Wolf (Forensic Anthropologist, Medical Ex- Hill AP, and Behrensmeyer AK (1984) Disarticulation
aminer Program, Justice Cabinet, Commonpatterns of some modern East African mammals. Paleobiology 1Ot366-376.
wealth of Kentucky) for his comments
regarding modern forensic cases. Robert B. Johnson E (1985) Current developments in bone technology. In MB Schiffer (ed.): Advances in Archaeological
Eckhardt and anonymous reviewers proMethod and Theory, Vol. 8. New York: Academic Press,
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pp. 157-235.
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Klippel WE, Snyder LM, and Parmalee PW (1987) Taphonomy and archaeologically recovered mammal bone
from southeast Missouri. J. Ethnobiol. 7:155-169.
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