Promoting wolf conservation since 1999

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Wolves are considered a keystone species, a crucial and integral part of the ecosystem.

Tom Plummer

Name:       Tom Plummer, Associate Professor - Department of Anthropology
Institute:    Queens College, CUNY, New York Consortium in Evolutionary Primatology (NYCEP)
Date:          2010 – present
Title:           A GIS-Based Approach to Documenting Carnivore Damage to Bones


Paleontologists and archaeologists utilize bone damages to make a variety of ecological and behavioral inferences, but differentiating bone damages created by carnivores from those created by other agents (including human ancestors) is a long-standing problem in the analysis of fossil assemblages. In order to reconstruct hominin (primitive human) ecology and behavior, archaeologists need to confidently differentiate carnivore damage patterns from those created by stone tools used by hominins to process bone. The appearance of the first stone tool culture (called the Oldowan) at sites ca. 2.6 million years ago (Ma), for example, may reflect one of the most important adaptive shifts in human evolution. Stone artifact manufacture, large mammal butchery, and novel transport and discard behaviors led to the accumulation of the first recognized archeological debris. Analysis of fossils from these sites and nutritional analysis suggests that the combination of animal tissue and nutritionally dense plant foods was the likely diet fueling body size increase and brain expansion in Homo. But the place of Homo in the carnivore hierarchy between 1.5 - 2.5 million years ago is ambiguous. Debate over the mode of carcass acquisition by early Homo continues, with opinions ranging from hominin hunting and access to fully fleshed carcasses to hominin scavenging of scraps of flesh and marrow from carnivore kills. Carnivore fossils are common in early archeological assemblages, and bones with both stone tool and carnivore damage are often found. Determining the kinds of animals forming and modifying a fossil assemblage and their order of access to the carcass parts may be possible, if damage patterns attributable to hominins and different types of carnivores can be diagnosed. Whereas a great deal of work has been conducted on stone tool damage, the study of carnivore damage to bone has lagged behind. We propose to study bones consumed by wolves to illustrate the kinds of damage traces large canids leave on bones.'

Two major classes of damage are assessed in this project: surface damage and fracture damage. Surface damage such as tooth pits and scores can be produced by a broad array of animals in the course of mouthing or trying to fracture bones. Generally only larger carnivores are able to crack goat-sized and larger bone shafts. Preliminary research on bone surface damage suggests that tooth score and pit dimensions can be used to minimally determine carnivore size class, if not carnivore family. There are also morphological differences in impact notches and fracture surfaces between bones broken with stone tools versus those fractured by carnivores. Our overall project conducted by a team of researchers (Table 1) seeks to enlarge the sample of carnivore fractured bone for study. Bones damaged by wolves would be particularly valuable, as very little work has been done on large canid damage to bone. This study will provide valuable baseline information for assessing carnivore impact on bone, by taxon and body-size class. These data, in combination with comparable datasets collected elsewhere, may ultimately allow us to assess the relative impact of carnivores and hominins on both New and Old World bone assemblages throughout much of human prehistory.

Researchers participating in this bone feeding project. 

Colleen Delaney-Rivera, Asst. Prof., California State University, Channel Islands

Fritz Hertel, Prof., California State University, Northridge

James S. Oliver, Research Associate, Penn State University

Jennifer Parkinson, PhD student, CUNY Graduate Center

Tom Plummer, Assoc. Prof, Queens College, City University of New York


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