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Keywords:

  • actualistic experiments;
  • bone degradation;
  • environmental archaeology;
  • experimental archaeology;
  • taphonomy;
  • zooarchaeology

ABSTRACT

Archaeological experiments that use modern bones to replicate past animal bone assemblages have often failed to consider the effects of environment, storage and preparation on modern bones. Often, these experiments make little mention of the conditions to which bones were subject during their storage and preparation for use in experiments. In other instances, these variables are reported but not considered as factors that contribute to the nature of the results obtained. This study considers previously reported data concerning the degradation of frozen bones (−20°C), and bones exposed to hot, dry conditions (40°C), and presents new data for bones exposed to room temperature environments (22°C) and refrigerated environments (2°C), and bones that are frozen (−20°C) and then thawed (22°C). These conditions are all relevant to understanding the nature of bone degradation and the use of bones in modern archaeological experimentation. This article also surveys a range of previously reported experiments that utilise modern bones to create analogies to the past and considers different methodological approaches and their relationship to the condition of bones at the time of their fracture and fragmentation. The longitudinal data presented in this study demonstrate differential rates of bone degradation over time in various environmental conditions. This degradation results in dramatic changes in bone fracture morphology, bone strength and utility for bone tool production. These observations have significant implications for experiments that utilise modern bones, especially when experimental data are used to create analogies to the archaeological past. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.