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Keywords:

  • comparative taphonomy;
  • cannibalism;
  • Ohio prehistory

Abstract

The Richards site is attributed to the Philo phase of the Fort Ancient tradition of the Ohio Valley area. Human skeletal material from the site shows evidence of peri- and post-mortem taphonomic changes, including cut marks, burning and fracturing. Previous analyses have discussed explanations for these changes, including secondary burial, ritual destruction and cannibalism. Researchers have theorised that, allowing for differences in anatomy among species, humans and animals butchered for the same purpose (consumption) will show similar patterns of taphonomic changes associated with butchery. The human remains at the Richards Site were disposed in general midden pits containing mixed cultural debris and faunal remains. White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) constitutes approximately 60% of all the faunal bone, indicating that it was a major food resource. To test a cannibalism explanation, a comparative analysis of human-induced taphonomy in human and deer skeletal remains was performed, using chi-square and odds ratio tests. If humans were being used as a food resource, the pattern of butchery seen would mirror that of the deer. The analysis described here compares the patterns of treatment and disposal of human and deer skeletal elements at the Richards site, to test whether both species were used as food resources.

Similar types of evidence for human-induced taphonomic changes, including cutting, chopping, burning and breakage, can be seen in both species. However, results indicate that, in general, human remains show much more evidence of perimortem treatment than do deer remains. In fact, the common odds ratio for perimortem treatment in all bones is 3.25, indicating that a human bone is 3.25 times as likely as a deer bone to be affected by burning, cutting or chopping. This probably indicates that perimortem treatment of humans was greater than that necessary simply for butchering for consumption. Copyright © 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.