Squamate bone taphonomy: A new experimental framework and its application to the Natufian zooarchaeological record


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Scientific Reports

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Squamate (lizard and snake) remains are abundant in the terminal Pleistocene Natufian archaeological sites of the Levant, raising the question of whether they constitute part of the broad-spectrum diet characteristic of this period. However, the role of squamates in Natufian diets remains unclear, as they are taphonomically under-studied. We conducted a series of experiments and actualistic observations that tested the impact of pre- and post-depositional processes on squamate vertebrae. We emphasized the multiple destruction processes that leave overlapping or altered marks on the bones, such as digestion marks that were modified by trampling. The resulting bone modification typology provides a tool for studying archaeological squamate remains. The experimental data were compared to the archaeological bone samples of the Natufian sequence of el-Wad Terrace (Mount Carmel, Israel, 15,000–12,000 cal BP). The Natufian squamate samples deviate from all actualistic ones in their lesser evidence of digestion and much greater indications for trampling, erosion and breakage. The taphonomic study, coupled with intra-site analysis, has unraveled the complex depositional history of el-Wad Terrace, enabling us to differentiate between cultural and non-cultural contexts and to identify possible human consumption of the European glass lizard and the large whip snake in the Natufian.

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