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Keywords:

  • bearded vulture;
  • bearded vulture bone utility index (BVBUI);
  • digestion marks;
  • taphonomy

ABSTRACT

In Europe, the bearded vulture Gypaetus barbatus is currently an endangered species limited now to high mountain areas, but had a broader geographical distribution in the past. It breeds on ledges in limestone cliffs, in habitats similar to those also selected by prehistoric human groups. This species feeds mainly on bones of medium-sized ungulates that are processed before ingestion at bone-breaking sites or ossuaries; bone remains subsequently accumulate at their nesting places leading to potential mixing with human-derived or carnivore-derived assemblages. This fact could lead to incorrect palaeoeconomic interpretations that can be avoided if the taphonomic contribution of this bird of prey is correctly identified. Here, we present some key features to distinguish its presence in archaeo/palaeontological contexts. Bone surface alterations, breakage patterns and skeletal profiles are recorded. Several prehistoric, historic and modern assemblages accumulated by bearded vultures are studied. In addition, a new utility index based on bearded vulture dietary preferences that can be compared with skeletal element abundance in terms of %MAU (Minimal Animal Units) has been defined. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.