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Geographic Variation in the Taphonomic Effect of Vulture Scavenging: The Case for Southern Illinois


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Gretchen R. Dabbs, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor

Department of Anthropology

Southern Illinois University-Carbondale

1000 Faner Drive

Mail Code 4502

Carbondale, IL 62901

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The taphonomic effect of vulture scavenging has been previously documented in central Texas (J Forensic Sci, 2009, 54, 524). This study reports on the behavioral differences between two species of vultures (Coragyps atratus, Cathartes aura) observed over a period of 1 year at the Complex for Forensic Anthropology Research in Southern Illinois. The decomposition of six research subjects and two control subjects was observed. Compared with the previous findings of vulture activity, the authors observed a severe delay in the time of first arrival (up to 28 days), decreased feeding time on remains (14–40 min), a less voracious feeding rate (7 days to 2 months to skeletonization), and a completely different feeding pattern of vultures in Southern Illinois. Additionally, no characteristic markings were observed on skeletal elements of research subjects. This study suggests the taphonomic effects of scavengers varies with climate and regions and may affect decomposition rates and patterns.