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2 Scopus citations


Taphonomy is a family of methods and concepts used by paleontologists, archaeologists, and forensics scientists for inferring a sequence of past events or processes that formed a collection of associated objects, such as vertebrate skeletons, mollusk shells, or preserved plant parts. Cause is inferred from the remains and traces left by the processes of disturbance, aggregation. Taphonomic methods benefit from reference cases, constants, and natural principles from both the physical and biological sciences. Inferences are strengthened by experiments and knowledge of independent recent cases of known history, provided that the reference data represent some aspect of a timeless (uniformitarian) process or structure. Causal agents may be diagnosed from the damage that they create, but signatures or patterns of damage may not be unique to one type of agent (the problem of equifinality). The range of potential explanations for an observed case must be reduced through a step-wise process of hypothesis testing. Cross-referencing of distinct lines of evidence is essential for excluding competing explanations. © 2008

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationEncyclopedia of Archaeology
PublisherElsevier Inc.
Number of pages7
ISBN (Print)9780123739629
StatePublished - 2008


  • Actualism
  • Diagenesis
  • Dissolution
  • Equifinality
  • Fossilization
  • Hypothesis testing
  • In situ attrition
  • Preservation
  • Site formation processes
  • Skeletal preservation
  • Taphonomy
  • Uniformitarianism
  • Zooarchaeology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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