The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

Raccoon modification of human skeletal remains


Anthropology, University of Tennessee

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Bone modification by the raccoon (Procyon lotor) has not yet been described, despite it being an opportunistic scavenger that is a potential modifier of human remains deposited in either a modern forensic setting or our recent archaeological past. There are two phases to this research. Phase one used motion and heat-triggered digital video and still photography to record the nocturnal feeding behavior of raccoons as they scavenged surface-decaying human bodies (n=8) at the University of Tennessee’s outdoor decomposition facility. Additional data collection was in the form of near daily field notes and photographs during camera operation and sporadic documentation up until the date of skeletal collection. Phase two documented raccoon bone modification in the William M. Bass Donated Skeletal Collection. Seven complete skeletons were examined under oblique light with the aid of 10-20X magnification. All skeletons represent individuals that were closely monitored as they decayed at the facility: abundant notes and diurnal photography were available for seven individuals and nocturnal photography was available for six.

Bone modification occurred secondary to soft tissue feeding. Thus, raccoons scattered but did not transport away skeletonizing body parts or bones. Tooth-mark morphology resembles that of other carnivores, but bone destruction is comparatively less severe. Raccoon modification of human skeletal remains may be characterized by a high frequency of tooth-marked bones of the hands, feet and ribs, with minimal destruction of long bone ends—a pattern unlike that of canids and felids. Pattern recognition will enable more accurate interpretations of body deposition and skeletal trauma.

This research was supported by the U.S. Department of Justice (NIJ Grant No. 2002-LP-CX-K006) and the William M. Bass Endowment.

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