Longitudinal Taphonomic Studies of Mammal Carcasses from the Rio Salado Valley, Mendoza, Argentina

Clara Otaola, Alfonsina Tripaldi


Taphonomic studies aid in understanding the transition of organic matter from living contexts (the biosphere) to geological contexts (the lithosphere), and how agents and processes affect skeletal remains in the archaeological record. Archaeological research in the Atuel River valley, Mendoza, Argentina, has been carried out for several years. However, actualistic approaches to examine local and regional taphonomic processes have only been recently developed in this area. Longitudinal studies of disarticulation and dispersion of bones from carcasses are presented here in order to understand how skeletal materials are naturally added to, subtracted from, and mixed within the archaeological record. In this paper we explore variability in the influence of taphonomic processes in different microhabitats of the valley and how these mechanisms impact the potential of mixing during bone deposition in the archaeological record. There are some qualitative differences between carcasses deposited in different landforms, showing that each place has its own taphonomic history, principally influenced by the geomorphic and ecologic processes that operate in different landforms.


Taphonomy, Actualistic studies, Mountain environments, Zooarchaeology

Full Text:



Abraham, M., and F. Rodríguez Martínez, eds. 2000. Recursos y Problemas Ambientales de Zona Árida. Primera Parte: Provincias de Mendoza, San Juan y La Rioja. Caracterización Ambiental. IADIZA, Mendoza, Argentina.

Andrews, P., and J. Cook. 1985. Natural Modifications to Bones in a Temperate Setting. Man 20:675–691. DOI:10.2307/2802756.

Andrews, P., and P. Whybrow. 2005. Taphonomic Observations on a Camel Skeleton in a Desert Environment in Abu Dhabi. Palaeontlogia Electrónica 8. Available at: http://palaeo-electronica.org/2005_1/andrews23/andrews23.pdf. Accessed on January 28, 2016.

Behrensmeyer, A. K. 1975. The Taphonomy and Paleoecology of Plio-Pleistocene Vertebrate Assemblages East of Lake Rudolf, Kenya. Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology 146:473–578

Behrensmeyer, A. K. 1978. Taphonomic and Ecologic Information from Bone Weathering. Paleobiology 4:150–162.

Behrensmeyer, A. K. 1991. Terrestrial Vertebrate Accumulations. In Taphonomy: Releasing the Data Locked in the Fossil Record, Vol. 9, Topics of Geobiology, edited by P. A. Allison and D. E. G. Briggs, pp. 291–335. Plenum Press, New York, NY.

Behrensmeyer, A. K. 2007. Changes Through Time in Carcass Survival in the Amboseli Ecosystem, Southern Kenya. In Breathing Life into Fossils: Taphonomic Studies in Honour of C.K. (Bob) Brain, edited by T. Pickering, K. Shick, and N. Toth, pp. 137–160. Stone Age Institute Press, Bloomington, IN.

Behrensmeyer, A. K., and S. M. Kidwell 1985. Taphonomy´s Contribution to Paleobiology. Paleobiology 11:105–119.

Bernáldez Sanchez, E., E. García Viñas, A. Ocaña García de Veas, F. J. Vázquez Gil, M. Gamero Esteban, and A. V. Grimaldi. 2008. La Ecología de la Muerte: Bioestratinomía en la Sierra Norte de Sevilla. In Investigación Científica y Conservación en el Parque Natural Sierra Norte de Sevilla. Junta de Andalucía Consejería de Medio Ambiente, pp.184–209. Junta de Andalucía, Sevilla, Spain.

Blumenschine, R. J. 1989. A Landscape Taphonomic Model of the Scale of Prehistoric Scavenging Opportunities. Journal of Human Evolution 18:345–371. DOI:10.1016/0047-2484(89)90036-5.

Borella, F., and L. A. Borrero 2010. Observaciones Tafonómicas Acerca de la Desarticulación de Carcasas de Pinnípedos en Ambientes Litorales, el Caso de Islote Lobos (Golfo San Matías, Río Negro). In Zooarqueología a principios del siglo XXI. Aportes teóricos, Metodológicos y Casos de Estudio, edited by M. Gutiérrez, M. De Nigris, P. Fernández, M. Giardina, A. Gil, A. Izeta, G. Neme, and H. Yacobaccio, pp. 371–380. Ediciones del Espinillo, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Borrero, L. A. 2007. Longitudinal Taphonomic Studies in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. In Taphonomy and Zooarchaeology in Argentina, edited by M. A. Gutierrez, L. Miotti, G. Barrientos, G. Mengoni Goñalons, and M. Salemme, pp. 219–233. BAR International Series 1601, Archaeopress, Oxford.

Borrero, L. A., N. V. Franco, J. L. Lanata, and J. B. Belardi. 1993. Distribuciones Arqueológicas y Tafonómicas en la Margen Norte del Lago Argentino (Santa Cruz, Argentina). Actas del XII Congreso Nacional de Arqueología Chilena 1:23–31.

Borrero, L. A., F. M. Martin, and J. Vargas. 2005. Tafonomía de la Interacción Entre Pumas y Guanacos en el Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, Chile. Magallania 33:95–114. DOI:10.4067/S0718-22442005000100007.

Bonomo, M., and A. Massigoge. 2004. Análisis Tafonómico del Conjunto Faunístico del Sitio Arqueológico Nutria Mansa 1 (Partido de General Alvarado). In Aproximaciones Contemporáneas a la Arqueología Pampeana: Perspectivas Teóricas, Metodológicas, Analíticas y Casos de Studio, edited by G. Martínez, M. A. Gutiérrez, R. Curtoni, M. Berón, and P. Madrid, pp. 93–111. Facultad de Ciencias Sociales (UNCPBA), Olavarría, Buenos Aries, Argentina.

Brain, C. K. 1967. Bone Weathering and the Problem of Bone Pseudo-tools. South African Journal of Science 63:97–99.

Brain, C. K. 1981. The Hunters or the Hunted? An Introduction to African Cave Taphonomy. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL.

Cabrera, A. L. 1971. Regiones Fitogeográficas de Argentina, Enciclopedia Argentina de Agricultura y Jardinería, Tomo II, Fascículo I. Editorial ACME, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Cajal, J. L., and R. A. Ojeda. 1994. Camélidos Silvestres y Mortalidad por Tormentas de Nieve en la Cordillera Frontal de la Provincia de San Juan, Argentina. Mastozoología Neotropical 1:81–88.

Capitanelli, R. 2005. Climatología de Mendoza. Editorial UNCUYO, Edición Facsimilar, Mendoza, Argentina.

Corbat, M. 2015. Variabilidad Ambiental y Sociocultural en la Explotación de Peces en el Centro-occidente Argentino: Una Evaluación Xooarqueológica. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, Universidad de Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Corbat, M., and M. Giardina. 2014. Experimental Approach and Shape Influence on Hydraulic Transport of Fish Bones. Paper presented at the 12th International Conference of Archaeozoology. San Rafael, Argentina.

Coard, R. 1999. One Bone, Two Bones, Wet Bones, Dry Bones: Transport Potentials under Experimental Conditions. Journal of Archaeological Science 26:1369–1375. DOI:10.1006/jasc.1999.0438.

Cruz, I. 1999. Estepa y Bosque: Paisajes Actuales y Tafonomía en el Noroeste de Santa Cruz: La Utilización de Lagos y Lagunas en la Región de Lago Argentino (Provincia de Santa Cruz). In Soplando en el Viento: Actas de las III Jornadas de Arqueología de la Patagonia, pp. 303–314. Universidad Nacional del Comahue e Instituto Nacional de Antropología y Pensamiento Latinoamericano, Neuquén, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Cruz, I. 2007. Avian Taphonomy: Observations at Two Magellanic Penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus) Breeding Colonies and Their Implications for the Fossil Record. Journal of Archaeological Science 34:1252–1261. DOI:10.1016/j.jas.2006.10.016.

Cruz, I., and S. Muñoz. 2010. Tafonomía Comparativa: Seguimiento de Carcasas de Mamíferos de Punta Entrada (Santa Cruz, Argentina). In Zooarqueología a Principios del Siglo XXI: Aportes Teóricos, Metodológicos y Casos de Estudio, edited by M. Gutiérrez, M. De Nigris, P. Fernández, M. Giardina, A. Gil, A. Izeta, G. Neme and H. Yacobaccio, pp. 387–396. Ediciones del Espinillo, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Efremov, I. A. 1940. Taphonomy: A New Branch of Paleontology. Pan American Geologist 74:81–93.

Fernandez-Jalvo, Y., and P. Andrews. 2003. Experimental Effects of Water Abrasion on Bone Fragments. Journal of Taphonomy 1:147–163.

Gutiérrez, M. A, and C. Kufmann 2007. Criteria for the Identification of Formation Processes in Guanaco (Lama guanicoe) Bone Assemblages in Fluvial-Lacustrine Environments. Journal of Taphonomy 5:151–176.

Haynes, G. 1982. Utilization and Skeletal Disturbance of North American Prey Carcasses. Arctic 35:266–281.

Hayned, G. 1988. Longitudinal Studies of African Elephant Death and Bone Deposits. Journal of Archaeological Science 15:131–157. DOI:10.1016/0305-4403(88)90003-9.

Hill, A. 1979. Disarticulation and Scattering of Mammal Skeleton. Paleobiology 5:261–274.

Kahlke, R. D., and S. Gaudzinski. 2005. The Blessing of a Great Flood: Differentiation of Mortality Patterns in the Large Mammal Record of the Lower Pleistocene Fluvial Site of Untermassfeld (Germany) and Its Relevance for the Interpretation of Faunal Assemblages from Archaeological Sites. Journal of Archaeological Science 32:1202–1222. DOI:10.1016/j.jas.2005.03.004.

Kaufmann, C. A., and M. A. Gutierrez. 2004. Dispersión Potencial de Huesos de Guanaco en Medios Fluviales y Lacustres. In Aproximaciones Contemporáneas a la Arqueología Pampeana: Perspectivas Teóricas, Metodológicas, Analíticas y Casos de Studio, edited by G. Martínez, M. A. Gutiérrez, R. Curtoni, M. Berón, and P. Madrid, pp. 129–146. Facultad de Ciencias Sociales (UNCPBA), Olavarría, Buenos Aries, Argentina.

Lagiglia, H. A, G. Neme, and A. Gil. 1994. Investigaciones Arqueológicas en la Cueva Arroyo Colorado (Malargüe- Mendoza). In Actas y Memorias del XI Congreso Nacional de Arqueología Argentina, edited by H. A. Lagiglia, pp. 119–120. San Rafael, Mendoza, Argentina.

Lyman, R. L. 1994. Vertebrate Taphonomy. Cambridge University Press, New York, NY.

Lyman, R. L. 2010. What Taphonomy Is, What It Isn´t, and Why Taphonomists Should Care about the Difference. Journal of Taphonomy 8:1–16.

Marean, C. 1995. Of Taphonomy and Zooarchaeology. Evolutionary Anthropology 4:64–72. DOI:10.1002/evan.1360040209.

Nasti, A. 2000. Modification of Vicuña Carcasses in High-Altitude Deserts. Current Anthropology 41:279–283. DOI:10.1086/300133.

Nasti, A. 2005. Dragging and Scattering of Camelid Bones by Fluvial Action in the Real Grande Gorge, Province of Catamarca, Southern Argentinean Puna. Journal of Taphonomy 3:173–183.

Neme, G. 2007. Cazadores-Recolectores de Altura en los Andes Meridionales: el Alto Valle del Río Atuel. BAR International Series 159, Archaeopress, Oxford.

Otaola, C. 2013. Zooarqueologia en la Cordillera del Sur de Mendoza: Un Enfoque Tafonómico. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation. Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, Universidad de Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Otaola, C. 2014. Actualistic Zooarchaeology in Central Western Argentina in Cave and Open Air Contexts. Ethnobiology Letters 5:95–103. DOI:10.14237/ebl.5.2014.227.

Otaola, C., M. Giardina, M. Fry, G. Neme, and S. Wolverton. 2015. Zooarqueologia y Tafonomia en Pastores actuales del Sur de Mendoza. Manuscript submitted to Intersecciones en Antropología. Available from claraotaola@conicet.gov.ar.

Paruelo, J. M., A. Beltran, O. Sala, E. Jobbagy, and R. A. Golluscio. 1998. The Climate of Patagonia: General Patterns and Controls on Biotic Processes. Austral Ecology 8:85–104.

Rindel, D., and J. B. Belardi. 2006. Mortandad Catastrófica de Guanacos por Estrés Invernal y Sus Impplicaciones Arqueológicas: El Sitio Alero Los Guanacos 1. Magallania 34:139–155. DOI:10.4067/S0718-22442006000100009

Roig, F. A., M. Carretero, and E. Méndez. 2000. Vegetación de la Provincia de Mendoza. In Recursos y Problemas Ambientales de la Zona Árida: Provincias de Mendoza, San Juan y La Rioja. Caracterización Ambiental, edited by E. M. Abraham and F. R. Martinez, pp. 63–70. IADIZA, Mendoza, Argentina.

Trapani, J. 1998. Hydrodynamic Sorting of Avian Skeletal Remains. Journal of Archaeological Science 25:477–487. DOI:10.1006/jasc.1997.0257.

Voorhies, M. 1969. Taphonomy and Population Dynamics of an Early Pliocene Vertebrate Fauna, Knox County, Nebraska. Contributions to Geology Special Paper 1. University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY.

Weigelt, J. 1989. Recent Vertebrate Carcasses and their Paleobiological Implications. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL.

Wolverton, S., J. Dombrosky, and R. L. Lyman. 2014. Practical Significance: Ordinal Scale Data and Effect Size in Zooarchaeology. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology. DOI:10.1002/oa.2416.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14237/ebl.7.1.2016.478

Copyright (c) 2016 Clara Otaola, Alfonsina Tripaldi

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.