The taphonomy of cooked bone: characterizing boiling and its physico–chemical effects



Cooking is perhaps the most common pre–burial taphonomic transformation that occurs to bone, yet it is still one of the least understood. Little progress has been made in determining a method of identifying cooked bone in the archaeological record, despite its import for various branches of archaeology. This paper attempts to describe boiling in terms of its physico–chemical effects on bone, and uses a suite of diagenetic indicators to do this.

It is shown that cooking for brief periods of time has little distinguishable effect on bone in the short term, but that increased boiling times can mirror diagenetic effects observed in archaeological bone. The relationship between the loss of collagen and alterations to the bone mineral is explored through heating experiments, and the results compared with archaeological data.The possibility of boiling being used as an analogue for bone diagenesis in future studies is raised, and the key relationship between protein and mineral is once again highlighted as vital to our understanding of bone diagenesis.