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Taphonomy

Use these flash cards to study different taphonomic processes observed in human remains. You should be able to identify all of the processes given. HINT: Some flashcards may contain more than one taphonomic process.
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Carnivore puncture
Yellow arrows point to two punctures from carnivore canines. These are the result of postmortem scavenging by carnivores.
Carpal drilled with string
This wrist bone has been drilled through - likely so that it can be mounted as part of an anatomical skeleton. Human modifications are also taphonomic processes!
Copper stain
Proximity to copper and copper-containing alloys can cause bones to take on a bright green color -- especially in archaeological burial contexts, where the remains are in contact with the metal for a prolonged period of time.
Delamination
The cortical bone of this femur has flaked away as a result of exposure to the elements. Delamination is one type of weathering that bones can sustain.
Green Taphonomy
The cranium and mandible of this individual were subjected to two different taphonomic processes: while the cranium is stained green from exposure to algae, the mandible is stained brown from contact with soil.
Innominate weathering
The top part of this innominate -the ilium- is bleached, cracked, and flaking - this is evidence of weathering. While the ilium has been exposed, the rest of the bone has been more protected, probably in contact with soil.
Pelvis carnivore gnaw
Note the punctures and gnawing along the iliac blade of this innominate - clear evidence of carnivore scavenging activity.
Postmortem saw
Don't confuse these cut marks with perimortem trauma! You can tell that the cranium has been damaged postmortem because the broken margin is lighter in color than the rest of the bone.
Pubic Symphyses soil stained and sun bleached
Note that these pubic symphyses are different colors. The one on the left is soil stained, while the one on the right is sun bleached. This indicates that the two halves of the pelvis were positioned differently.
Close up rodent gnaw
Tightly-spaced, parallel grooves indicate postmortem damage caused by rodent gnawing. While both rodents and carnivores are scavengers, rodents prefer dry bone and carnivores prefer fresh.
Root-etching marks
In this close-up shot, you can see the erosion and discoloration caused by roots. Root etching is evidence that human remains were buried, or otherwise in contact with the ground.
Scapula Adipocere
Adipocere -the white spots on the upper surface of this scapula- is a waxy substance that forms when human fats hydrolyze in a damp environment.
Skull rodent gnaw
The bright-white parallel striae etched by rodent incisors stand out starkly against the algal-stained surface of this cranium.
Skull root-etching marks
Plant matter is visible near the zygomatic arch of this cranium, and root etching and soil staining are visible on the vault. Other parts of the cranium have been bleached by the sun.
Skull soil staining
This skull shows a combination of sun bleaching -white- and soil staining -brown-.
Skull soil staining
Dark brown soil staining and adherent sediments are visible on the right side of the cranium.
Sun bleached skull
One side of this cranium has been sun bleached, indicating that is was positioned with the right side exposed.