Zooarchaeology and taphonomy of gallinaceous birds in the northeastern United States

Date of Completion

January 1998


Anthropology, Archaeology|Biology, Zoology|Paleozoology




The poor preservation that often characterizes archaeology in the Northeast demands that the formation processes and taphonomy of sites be examined, otherwise (1) misinterpretations and incorrect descriptions of human use of animals will result, or (2) descriptions must rely greatly on the ethnographic record. While archaeologists in the region note and discuss the importance of considering site formation and taphonomic processes, the specific factors affecting bone preservation have received little assessment. This research project examines two important factors: (1) the differences in bird bone survivorship caused by bone mineral density, and (2) the differences in bird species identifiability resulting from the differential preservation of bird skeletal remains.^ This study considers two hypotheses. First, the bones of gallinaceous species differ in their likely survival because of differences in bone mineral density among fossil classes. Second, archaeological reports of gallinaceous species of birds are dependent upon the variation in the ease with which they can be identified from recovered samples of their bones. I propose that the differential survivorship of different fossil elements accounts for this variation in ease. In my review of over 140 northeastern archaeological samples, gallinaceous bird remains overall tend to occur commonly; however, the abundance of their body parts is low. The variation in this abundance between archaeological samples reflects a combination of the survivorship and analysis of bone, scavenging by animals, and the hunting activity of Native Americans. Using site samples exhibiting little or no scavenging, I develop scales of differential survivorship and differential identifiability to correct for these biases. I provide these scales to assist archaeologists with identifying the role that gallinaceous birds play in the hunting activity of Native Americans in the northeastern United States from 9,000 BC to 1,600 AD. ^