M.A. Theses: Karla Dawn Kusmer, 1986

Microvertebrate Taphonomy in Archaeological Sites: An Examination of Owl Deposition an the Taphonomy of Small Mammals from Sentinel Cove, Oregon

Analysis of microvertebrat remains from archaeological sites can yield important information concerning human utilization of small animals and the environment within which cultures functioned. Knowledge of the depositional and postdepositional history of the microvertebrate remains is necessary for both these areas of research. Methods for recognizing deposition by owls, a major source of small animal remains in archaeological sites, are examined in this study.

Characteristic patterns of bone fragmentation and skeletal element representation are derived, and their variability examined, through the actualistic investigation of remains accumulated by three species of wild owls. This provides useful baseline information concerning initial characteristics of owl deposited assemblages and allows more educated hypotheses concerning the taphonomic history of small animal remains. However, it is shown that these characteristics are not truly diagnostic criteria because they overlap with attributes produced by other processes and do not satisfy "if and only if" statements.

The application of this actualistic research to taphonomic problems encountered in archaeological sites is assessed through the analysis of 18,500 small mammal bones and teeth from Sentinel Cave, a northern Great Basin archaeological site in southeastern Oregon. Fifteen descriptive attributes were recorded for each bone in the assemblage. These data were analyzed with the aid of an information storage and retrieval computer program to derive characteristics comparable to the actualistic data.

The analysis demonstrates that element frequency criteria are obscured by sampling loss, postdepositional modification, and multiple depositional agents. It is suggested that characteristics of individual bones, such as type of break digestive erosion, tooth marks and burn patterns are more important, but that all information, including context, must be utilized in conjunction to satisfactorily investigate taphonomic processes. Deposition of the rodent and lagomorph remains in Sentinel Cave is ascribed primarily to owls, with a limited carnivore contribution. Woodrat activity appears to have had little effect on the assemblage other than the possible relocation of some lagomorph bones.