Carnivore damage to antelope bones and its archaeological implications

Richardson, P. R. K.
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Bernard Price Institute for Palaeontological Research
The rates of survival, damage, fragmentation and degree of articulation of the bones of 89 bovids eaten by a variety of carnivores in the Transvaal are presented and evaluated. These results are entirely predictable considering the size, density, shape and mode of attachment of the bones. With the exception of the brown and spotted hyaenas the extent of damage to these bones can be directly related to the sizes of the bovids and the carnivores concerned. The hyaenas have disproportionately high abilities to crush bones, particularly the long limb bones. The bones all had fairly uniform survival rates except the ribs, carpals, tarsals, phalanges and caudal vertebrae, which are easily eaten or removed. Mandibles and scapulae had exceptionally low articulation rates, and long bones, crania and ribs had the highest fragmentation rates. Small bovid bones were far more susceptible to damage by trampling than those of larger bovids. Certain differences between carnivore and hominid damage to bones are mentioned. These relate primarily to hominids using their hands to dismember and damage bones selectively, particularly long bones which are broken in half to extract the marrow. A different pattern of survival of long bone epiphyses resulting from hominid activity can be predicted from that caused by carnivores, especially hyaenas. The pattern of survival of epiphyses at Makapansgat is that predicted for hominids, whereas the pattern at Swartklip I, an accepted hyaena site, is the opposite. It is therefore suggested that australopithecines were the primary bone collectors at Makapansgat. Further data on the differences between carnivore and hominid damage are also presented.
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hominid; carnivore; bone damage; Transvaal