It only took one 13-million-year-old bone for two paleontologists to reconstruct the dramatic encounter pictured above. That bone is a tibia, or lower leg bone, from an extinct ground sloth (not a giant ground sloth, just a 170 pound medium-sized one). The tibia has 46 tooth marks on it, made by the extinct caiman (a close relative of alligators) Purussaurus.
Read the paper by Pujos and Salas-Gismondi to see how, through a detailed taphonomic analysis of a single bone, they were able to infer not only what animal did the biting, but also how old it was. Unresolved: whether the caiman got the whole sloth or just the leg.
Pujos F, Salas-Gismondi R. 2020 Predation of the giant Miocene caiman Purussaurus on a mylodontid ground sloth in the wetlands of proto-Amazonia. Biology Letters 16: 20200239. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsbl.2020.0239
Featured image: Detail of Figure 2 from Pujos and Salas-Gismondi. Artwork by Jorge A. González.
This 2015 post on This Week in Pennsylvania Archaeology is about zooarchaeology and includes new photos of animal bones and cut marks from the famous Eschelman Site in Lancaster County, which was the subject of one of the earliest systematic analyses of bone modification marks on an American faunal assemblage.
Guilday, John E., Paul W. Parmalee and Donald P. Tanner
1962 Aboriginal Butchering Techniques at the Eschelman Site (36LA12), Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 32(2):59-83.
A recent study of bones from an early historic Iroquois site includes a comparison with the much earlier animal bones from the Lamoka Lake site as well as some interesting passenger pigeon finds.
Adam Watson and Stephen Cox Thomas studied animal bones from the early 18th century Townley-Read site in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. The Seneca who lived at the site may have hunted deer year-round. Deer hides, as well as furs from other animals, would have been traded with European colonists. The detailed taphonomic analysis also indicates that deer bones were likely processed to extract the fat-rich grease from the spongy portions of the bones. This is usually considered to be evidence of nutritional stress, but they make the case that processing for bone grease was “a planned accumulation of resources rather than an ad hoc response to seasonal food shortfalls.” (p. 115)
Also of interest is the identification of passenger pigeon bones from one feature at the site. Passenger pigeon, of course, tends to be present at prehistoric archaeological sites in the region with good bone preservation, but in this case, four of the bones are from immature pigeons, providing good evidence specifically for the procurement of squabs in the springtime.
A small number of American eel bones, in contrast, are more likely to indicate fishing in the fall, when eels are heading downstream to spawn.
As a whole, the assemblage has some interesting differences from both earlier and later archaeological sites in New York. The authors provide a detailed and well-researched analysis of the animal bones from this Iroquois site to make the point that “the evidence for economic resilience and stability at Townley-Read contradicts a narrative of pervasive and unimpeded decline, and reinforces the importance of continuing to build and test empirical models grounded in both local and regional archaeological and historical data.” (p. 115)
The journal Assemblage has just published the Proceedings of the Postgraduate Zooarchaeology Forum held at the University of Sheffield in 2012. All eight papers can be freely downloaded at the Assemblage website.
All but one of the papers deal with Old World assemblages. The exception is Sofia Tecce’s analysis of animal bones from Estancia Pueyrredón 2 in Argentina. This hunter-gatherer site dates to between 4,900-3,500 BP (yes, roughly the same time period as the Lamoka Lake site). The faunal assemblage is dominated by guanaco (although there are also a lot of unidentified rodents) and Tecce present a pretty comprehensive taphonomic analysis of the guanaco bones.
Publication of these papers is notable for another reason. As the editors, Lizzie Wright and Angela Trentacoste point out, the organizers
…had no funding for this conference, but charged our participants just £10, in the knowledge that many postgraduates are limited by financial constraints. The Sheffield Zooarchaeology team hosted (sometimes multiple) participants in their homes. It is worth mentioning the real lack of opportunities for funding an event such as this – postgraduate conference funding was cut by the Arts and Humanties Research Council in recent years, and The University of Sheffield had no appropriate money that we could apply for. This is a real problem when postgraduates often have little funding themselves.