Impact of carnivore ravaging on zooarchaeological measures of element abundance

Curtis W. Marean, Lillian M. Spencer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

229 Scopus citations


Most zooarchaeologists estimate limb-bone abundance from limb ends. Researchers have provided detailed documentation of the preferential destruction by carnivores of limb ends (Binford 1981; Binford et al. 1988; Blumenschine 1988; Brain 1981; Marean et al. 1990; Orloff and Marean 1990; Sutcliffe 1970). Others have observed differences between limb abundances calculated on limb shafts vs. ends, suggesting shaft pieces may provide more accurate estimates of original element abundance in carnivore-ravaged assemblages (Bunn 1986; Bunn and Kroll 1986; Blumenschine 1988; Klein 1975; Marean et al. 1990; Orloff and Marean 1990). However, the exact quantitative effect of carnivore ravaging on measures of element abundance has never been investigated. We provide an experimental test of the accuracy of different bone portions for estimating the original element abundance after carnivore ravaging. Spotted hyenas were allowed to ravage 33 simulated archaeological sites of known element abundance. Estimates of abundance calculated on limb ends differ greatly from original bone abundance, and estimates based on proximal/distal-shaft pieces are also inaccurate. Estimates from middle-shaft fragments, however, are uniquely accurate. These experimental data mandate reanalysis of assemblages where limb frequencies were calculated from limb ends and carnivore ravaging is implicated, and experimentally vindicate observations originally provided by Klein (1975).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)645-658
Number of pages14
JournalAmerican Antiquity
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 1991
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Archaeology
  • Museology


Dive into the research topics of 'Impact of carnivore ravaging on zooarchaeological measures of element abundance'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this