taphonomy

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The trailer for Shaun of the Dead. Not all zombies are created equal. The most popular zombie archetype is a shambling, brain-eating member of the recently deceased, but, in recent films from 28 Days Later to Zombieland, the definition of what a zombie is or isn’t has become more complicated. Does a zombie have to…

The skull of a spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta), photographed at the AMNH’s “Extreme Mammals” exhibit. There was something strange about the assemblage of Homo erectus fossils found at Zhoukoudian – the famous 750,000 – 200,000 year old site in China popularly known as Dragon Bone Hill. Despite the abundance of skulls and teeth, there were…

Breaking down a hyena kill. Given competition with other carnivores, prehistoric hyenas (like their living counterparts) would probably have disarticulated and transported parts of horses they killed. From Diedrich 2010. In Hollywood films, there is nothing like an assemblage of bones strewn about a cave floor to testify to the power and voraciousness of a…

More Deep Sea Taphonomy

For deep sea scavengers, a dead tuna is an exquisite feast. For more on what happens to bodies which come to rest on the seafloor, see my post on bone-eating worms and this video of a whale fall.

A leopard (Panthera pardus). Image from Wikipedia. When a leopard eats a baboon, what is left behind? This question is not only relevant to primatologists and zoologists. Even though instances of predation on humans is relatively rare, big cats still kill and consume people, and when they do they can virtually obliterate a body. Yet,…

The fail whale comes to rest; the decomposing body of a gray whale is host to a diverse array of scavengers and other deep sea organisms. From Goffredi et al., 2004. In the deep sea, no carcass goes to waste. Platoons of crabs, fish, and other scavengers make short work of most of the bodies…