The use of mortality patterns in archaeological studies of hominid predatory adaptations

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285 Scopus citations


Mortality patterns in archaeofaunas can be informative of prehistoric human foraging habits, land use, and, ultimately, evolutionary changes in hominid sociality and ecological niche. The analytical value of mortality patterns is only as great, however, as archaeologists' understanding of the full range of possible causes for patterns in these data. Here, the relationships between mortality patterns in death assemblages and their documented causes are examined. Interspecific comparisons reveal that, while mortality patterns alone cannot diagnose cause, these data are potentially powerful tools for studies of hominid subsistence if supported by taphonomic analyses of bone assemblage formation. Mortality analyses are particularly effective if age frequency data are divided according to life history characteristics of prey species. Comparisons of known modern cases to ungulate assemblages created by Holocene and Pleistocene hominids of westcentral Italy present new information on humans as predators and evolutionary changes therein. These data indicate significantly greater strategic variation in the Middle Paleolithic cases than for all subsequent cultural periods combined. The variation certainly corresponds to two or more distinct foraging/land use strategies, scavenging and ambush hunting-the latter of which became more specialized with time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)305-351
Number of pages47
JournalJournal of Anthropological Archaeology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1990

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Archaeology
  • History
  • Archaeology


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