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Modelling skeletal disarticulation: using actualistic and comparative taphonomy to improve the analysis and interpretation of human burials

Author(s): Hayley Mickleburgh

Year: 2017

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Summary

Skeletal disarticulation patterns can be diagnostic of environmental conditions (e.g. water flow), animal behavior (e.g. scavenging) and/or human action (e.g. intentional displacement of bones), aiding the reconstruction of the events that formed a burial feature. In archaeothanatology, a model of the ‘natural’ or ‘common’ sequence of disarticulation of the human skeleton at the joints has served as the basis to distinguish ‘natural’ bone displacement from human intervention. This model is derived from archaeological observations and actualistic studies of animal taphonomy, and thus lacks verified actualistic data on human skeletal disarticulation.

This paper discusses the preliminary findings of controlled, actualistic experiments in human decomposition and skeletal disarticulation, undertaken at the outdoor human decomposition facility of the Forensic Anthropology Center at Texas State University. This project aimed to document soft tissue decomposition and bone disarticulation in five willed donated human bodies. Displacement of the body (parts) and bones over time was captured and movements quantified using 3D photogrammetry.

Ultimately, this research aims to assess the existing model for the ‘common’ sequence of human skeletal disarticulation. Ongoing research using a larger sample aims to investigate the potential effects of specific variables such as body mass, body position and mummification on joint disarticulation.


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Modelling skeletal disarticulation: using actualistic and comparative taphonomy to improve the analysis and interpretation of human burials. Hayley Mickleburgh. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 430162)


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Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 17158

Arizona State University The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation National Science Foundation National Endowment for the Humanities Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Institute of America