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

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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.

Original languageEnglish
Article number9373
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This paper is part of M.L.’s doctoral research at the University of Haifa, funded by the University President’s Scholarship for direct-track PhD students and the Nathan Rotenstreich Scholarship for outstanding PhD students. The excavation at the el-Wad Terrace, located in the Nahal Me’arot Nature Reserve, managed by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, was sponsored by the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Care Foundation, the Carmel Drainage Authority and the Faculty of Humanities, University of Haifa. We would like to thank Rivka Chasan, Danny Rosenberg and Ruth Shahack-Gross for their assistance and advice in the burning experiment; Rivka Rabinovich and Shai Meiri for enabling us to use the Natural National History collection at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, and the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History natural collection, respectively; Igal Miller of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority for the collection of pellets; Orr Comay and Lior Weissbrod for their permission to look at their collected materials; Svetlana Matskevich for graphic assistance; Miriam Feinberg Vamosh for editorial assistance and Daniel Kaufman, Guy Bar-Oz, Lior Weissbrod, Roee Shafir and the members of the zooarchaeology lab at the University of Haifa for their assistance and advice in this project.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, The Author(s).

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