Small carnivores might be the most destructive

A study published in the journal Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, where CENIEH participates, portrays the fox as a major accumulator and bone modifier agent

A recent study published in the journala Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences featuring Ruth Blasco, a taphonomy specialist from the Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana (CENIEH), and members of the URV-IPHES, attempts to simulate the actions of small carnivores at an experimental level and find diagnostic features that make them different from other agents, both in terms of bone modification and spatial alteration (dispersal of remains), culminating in the conclusion that they could have produced important modifications in archaeological sites.

While the presence of small carnivores, like the red fox, is common in the majority of European Pleistocene sites, only a few studies have been carried out to describe their taphonomic signal (that is, their diagnostic marks) in bone sets of macro-vertebrates.

“Our experimental line of work is essentially based on a simulation of different scenarios of predation and interaction aimed at characterizing the actions of wild carnivores by involving not only small carnivores, such as the fox or the badger, but also big predators as the brown bear”, says Ruth Blasco.

The experimental work, supported by the permission, supervision and collaboration of the Seguimiento del Oso Pardo teams, the Parc Natural de l'Alt Pirineu, and the Departament d'Agricultura, Ramaderia, Pesca i Alimentació de la Generalitat de Catalunya, is being carried out mostly in the Parc Natural de l'Alt Pirineu, in the Lleida Pyrenees, an area without any human condition that could modify the behavior of these animals.

“This is an essential fact when it comes to extrapolating experimental data, given that only these scenarios ensure the necessary isolation to avoid altering the taphonomic signal and adequate archaeological interpretations”, explains this taphonomy expert.

The present study belongs to a bigger experimental project that began in 2010 and is the result of the need to address the taphonomic complexity of the formation of some Pleistocene sites.