The Taphonomy of Archaeological Fish Remains: Experimental Approaches to Understanding the Effects of Natural and Cultural Processes on the Presence and Identification of Cut Marks
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Despite the fact that fish are a common component of coastal and other aquatic archaeological sites, fish bone taphonomy--including bone surface modifications and the effects of burial--remains woefully understudied. Various ethnographic accounts describe fish butchering techniques for immediate consumption and drying, yet cut marks are rarely reported on archaeological fish remains. To address a significant gap in our understanding of fish taphonomy, I devised an experimental research program aimed at assessing whether butchering fish produces cut marks on fish bones and, if so, what factors might account for the discrepancy between the experimental results and the archaeological record. Chapter I provides an introduction to experimental archaeology, including the criticisms and benefits of this approach. Chapter II presents the results of my initial butchery experiment, which establishes that butchering fish can produce abundant cut marks. Chapter III evaluates the effect of the butcher's skill level on the number and distribution of cut marks produced on fish bone during butchery. The results indicate that professional butchers produce nearly 50 percent fewer cut marks than novice- and intermediate-level butchers. Chapter IV addresses the effect of post-depositional taphonomic processes on the long-term visibility of cut marks. Despite a relatively short burial period (27 months), visible cut marks decreased by up to 75 percent, depending on the species. Chapter V is a re-analysis of the fish bone from column E6 at Daisy Cave (CA-SMI-261). Appling the referential framework I acquired through the experiments, I identified 62 cut marks on bones dating from the Early to Late Holocene. A comprehensive understanding of aquatic resource use has implications for a broad range of archaeological topics, including our understanding of hominid diet and resource use; identifying butchery and processing practices among fishing peoples; distinguishing between human and natural agency in the accumulation of fish remains; and assessing questions of behavioral modernity and social complexity. As we continue to recognize the primacy of coastal adaptations throughout human history, it is increasingly critical to expand the breadth of our knowledge regarding the taphonomy of fish remains at archaeological sites. This dissertation includes previously published and unpublished co-authored material.