University of Oulu

Pelletier, M., Desclaux, E., Mallye, J.‐B. and CrÉgut‐Bonnoure, E. (2020), Identifying the accidental‐natural mortality of leporids in the archaeological record: insights from a taphonomical analysis of a pitfall without evidence of human presence. J. Quaternary Sci, 35: 677-694. doi:10.1002/jqs.3203

Identifying the accidental‐natural mortality of leporids in the archaeological record : insights from a taphonomical analysis of a pitfall without evidence of human presence

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Author: Pelletier, Maxime1; Desclaux, Emmanuel2,3; Mallye, Jean‐Baptiste4;
Organizations: 1Archaeology, History, Culture and Communication Studies, Faculty of Humanities, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
2Laboratoire départemental de Préhistoire du Lazaret, Nice, France
3Université Côte d'Azur, CNRS, CEPAM, Nice, France
4CNRS, PACEA UMR 5199 Pessac, France
5Muséum Requien, Avignon, France
6Université Toulouse‐Jean‐Jaurès, CNRS, TRACES, Toulouse, France
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 6.8 MB)
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Language: English
Published: John Wiley & Sons, 2020
Publish Date: 2020-09-15


Leporids (Lagomorpha, Mammalia), especially the mountain hare (Lepus timidus) and the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), have been among the most abundant small game in western Europe since the Pleistocene. These animals are preferred prey for more than 40 predators, which increases the chances of finding their skeletal remains at archaeological or natural sites, and in particular karstic formations alternately occupied by Palaeolithic human societies and other predators. Moreover, specific eco‐ethological characteristics for both species also offer the possibility to produce a substantial quantity of their bones accumulated by natural mortality without predation, making it more difficult to identify their origin in the fossil record. Despite this fact, the taphonomic signature of accidental‐natural accumulations of leporids in karsts, such as pitfalls, has never been properly characterised. In order to address these issues, we carried out a detailed taphonomic study of leporid remains in a pitfall without any evidence of human activity, namely at Coulet des Roches (Monieux, Vaucluse, south‐eastern France). At this site, leporids are the most abundant species throughout the Last Glacial Maximum sedimentary sequence. The bone accumulation was analysed in order to determine the most relevant criteria to identify a natural accumulation that results from the accidental fall of individuals in the pitfall. The relative proportions of each species are consistent with their current ethology, and their mortality profiles are compatible with the structure of a living natural population. The completeness rate of the different skeletal portions for both species is relatively high, bones are less fragmented and, unlike what might be expected, very few anatomical connections were preserved. The observed anatomical representation, breakage, and bone surface modification patterns are discussed and compared with available data concerning accumulations with predation. Taken together, the identified criteria contribute valuable help in the recognition of accidental mortality in the fossil record, as well as to evaluate the proportion of leporid bones accumulated naturally and those accumulated by predation, human or not, in a deposit.

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Series: Journal of quaternary science
ISSN: 0267-8179
ISSN-E: 1099-1417
ISSN-L: 0267-8179
Volume: 35
Issue: 5
Pages: 677 - 694
DOI: 10.1002/jqs.3203
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 615 History and archaeology
Funding: The excavations were financially supported by DRAC‐PACA, Avignon Municipality, the Calvet Foundation, the Association of the Friends of Requien Museum, the Association for the Promotion of Mediterranean Prehistory and Anthropology, and the Vaucluse Archaeological Department. MP received funding from an A*MIDEX grant (No. ANR‐11‐IDEX‐0001‐02) from the French government programme ‘Investissements d'avenir’, and would also like to warmly thank the University of Oulu's archaeology lab for its support.
Copyright information: © 2020 The Authors Journal of Quaternary Science Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.