Captive hyaena bone choice and destruction, the Schlepp effect and olduvai archaeofaunas

Curtis W. Marean, Lillian M. Spencer, Robert J. Blumenschine, Salvatore D. Capaldo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

241 Scopus citations


Skeletal element representation at archaeological and palaeontological sites often differs from natural anatomical proportions. At archaeological sites this pattern could result from hominid behaviour, predepositional destructive or dispersive forces (such as carnivore ravaging), or post-depositional destructive forces (such as sediment compaction and leaching). Predepositional ravaging by carnivores is documented at several important Plio-Pleistocene archaeofaunal assemblages (FLK Zinjanthropus and FLKN levels 1-2). Here we present the first systematic and controlled experimental data on the effect of this process on skeletal element survival. Simulated archaeological assemblages of defleshed hammerstone-broken and unbroken bones were created within a captive spotted hyaena enclosure, and controlled numbers of hyaenas were allowed to ravage the sites. Vertebrae and pelves were nearly always chosen first for consumption by the hyaenas. Vertebrae and ribs were nearly always destroyed completely and pelves were destroyed 50% of the time. Limb-bone ends were frequently destroyed, while limb middle shaft fragments preserve nearly 100% of the original number of elements. Thus, hominid discarded bone assemblages, regardless of the original representation of elements, can come to resemble the schlepp effect simply through post-hominid hyaena scavenging. The documented pattern at FLK Zinjanthropus and FLKN1-2 of low frequencies of vertebrae, ribs and pelves and high frequencies of limbs may be due to post-hominid ravaging by hyaenas and not selective hominid transport of limb elements to the sites.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)101-121
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1992
Externally publishedYes


  • Bone Density
  • Carnivore Ravaging
  • Olduvai
  • Schlepp Effect
  • Spotted Hyaena

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology


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