Taphonomic Effects of Vulture Scavenging*


  • *

    Presented at the 60th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, in Washington, DC, February 21, 2008. Partially funded by the Grady G. Early Graduate Fellowship Fund.

Additional information and reprint requests:
Nicole M. Reeves, M.A.
Department of Anthropology
250 South Stadium Hall
University of Tennessee
Knoxville, TN 37996
E-mail: nreeves@utk.edu


Abstract:  From July through September 2007, three pig carcasses (Sus scrofa), weighing between 27 and 63 kg were placed outside in a grassy area in central Texas. A surrounding fence prevented entrance by terrestrial scavengers, while allowing avian scavengers unrestricted access. A fourth pig carcass served as a control for the rate of decomposition and was placed in a cage that prevented terrestrial and avian animal access. Modification of the carcasses was recorded through the use of two motion-sensing digital cameras and daily on-site observations. American black vultures (Coragyps atratus) and turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) waited c. 24 h before beginning to scavenge and completely skeletonized the carcasses in 3 to 27 h of feeding, leaving scratches on the bones. The accelerated rate of decomposition and the signature markings on the bones should be considered when interpreting taphonomic events and determining an accurate postmortem interval at vulture-modified scenes.