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Breathing life into fossils: Taphonomic studies in honor of CK (Bob) Brain

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In the 1960s, Brain published on a series of taphonomic studies in which he observed the destruction of goat bones by pastoralists and domestic dogs. Those studies were notable and novel for a variety of reasons: 1) the attempt to control for complex parameters through the use of what we now recognize as experimental and naturalistic actualism, 2) documentation of the destructive impact on skeletal element abundance by secondary carnivore consumers, and 3) the attempt to understand the mechanical aspects of this process, and thus establish the foundation for justifiable uniformitarianism. This work set the stage for a proliferation of research, and today the differential destruction of bone by secondary carnivore consumers is considered a significant, perhaps the most important, determinant of zooarchaeological patterning. This process selectively removes less dense portions of bones (the articular ends, in the case of long bones), and therefore demands a methodological shift away from the easily identified articular fragments to the more challenging shaft portions. Carnivore ravaging also destroys greasy and less dense elements such as axial bones disproportionately, resulting in different survival potentials between elements. This paper reviews the long accrual of knowledge initiated by Brain, evaluates what is known and unknown, re-examines the relationship be- tween mechanical properties (density) and skeletal element survival, develops a general model of archaeologi- cal bone survival, and concludes with a methodological roadmap for zooarchaeology’s future studies of skeletal element abundance.


Archaeological Anthropology

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This work is publicly available online, but is difficult to find and is incorrectly cited in Google Scholar. The online link is: https://www.stoneageinstitute.org/pdfs/breathing-fossils-ch3-cleghorn.pdf



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