A new semi-quantitative method for coding carnivore chewing damage with an application to modern African lion-damaged bones
The ability to distinguish between the taphonomic patterns inflicted by different carnivore taxa in the fossil record is currently underdeveloped. Previous efforts to identify taxon-specific taphonomic damage to prey bones inflicted by larger felids have largely focused on tooth marks. Recent work, however, which considers patterns of chewing damage are only beginning to yield methods that can consistently distinguish between species, or even families, of large predators. Here we present a new low-cost, low-tech, semi-quantitative method for coding carnivore-inflicted chewing damage patterns using a basic 5-stage scale (0 = no damage, 1 = tooth marks only, 2 = minimal chewing damage, 3 = moderate chewing damage, 4 = severe chewing damage, fragmentation, or destruction), including a photographic guide to different levels of bone damage inflicted on different skeletal elements and portions. An independent test of this method by three experienced taphonomic analysts indicates that this method is easy to use and results in consistent data across analysts. We also apply this method to document and describe the intensity of damage that free-ranging African lions inflicted on a sample of zebra bones. This method can be used in conjunction with efforts to distinguish taxon-specific tooth mark shapes or patterns to more confidently infer the identity of different predators based on their chewing damage.