The postmortem exposure interval of an Iron Age human bone assemblage from Alken Enge, Denmark

Lene Mollerup, Anna K.E. Tjelldén, Ejvind Hertz , Mads Kähler Holst

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Periods of exposure of corpses are a well-known phenomenon associated with battlefields and other conflict-related contexts involving numerous individuals. The identification and characterisation of these periods of exposure are often central to the interpretation of the sites. As such, damage to the bones may be a valuable source of information in this respect.

The focus of this study is on estimating the exposure sequence of an Iron Age assemblage of 2335 human bones recovered from Alken Enge, Denmark, by examining the damage patterns caused by scavenging animals. The prehistoric deposition of these bones in the lake, in an anaerobic, non-corroding environment, has resulted in their preservation to an exceptional degree, allowing detailed taphonomic studies of the postmortem exposure interval prior to deposition. The anthropological analyses are supported by histological analysis of bone micromorphology.

Patterns of animal damage on the Alken Enge bones are consistent with gnawing on proximal and distal ends of long bones and fresh breaks caused by large scavenging animals such as wolves and domestic dogs. The lack of rodent gnawing, fractures in dry and weathered bones and the absence of evidence for bacterial attack, together with the presence of framboidal pyrite, suggest that the bones were subjected to limited subaerial exposure, dismembered and partly defleshed before being deposited in the lake in prehistory.
TidsskriftJournal of Archaeological Science: Reports
Sider (fra-til) 819-827
Antal sider9
StatusUdgivet - 21 jun. 2016