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Taphonomic Effects of Vulture Scavenging

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From July through September 2007, three pig carcasses (Sus scrofa), weighing between 27 and 63 kg were placed outside in a grassy area in central Texas. A surrounding fence prevented entrance by terrestrial scavengers, while allowing avian scavengers unrestricted access. A fourth pig carcass served as a control for the rate of decomposition and was placed in a cage that prevented terrestrial and avian animal access. Modification of the carcasses was recorded through the use of two motion-sensing digital cameras and daily on-site observations. American black vultures (Coragyps atratus) and turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) waited c. 24 h before beginning to scavenge and completely skeletonized the carcasses in 3 to 27 h of feeding, leaving scratches on the bones. The accelerated rate of decomposition and the signature markings on the bones should be considered when interpreting taphonomic events and determining an accurate postmortem interval at vulture-modified scenes.

Keywords: bone modification; decomposition; forensic anthropology; forensic science; postmortem interval; postmortem scavenging; taphonomy; time since death; vultures

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Anthropology, University of Tennessee, South Stadium Hall, Knoxville, TN 37996.

Publication date: 2009-05-01

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