Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Walter E. Klippel

Committee Members

Paul Parmalee, Jan Simek, Gerald Schroedl, Michael McKinney


Natural enclosures such as rockshelters and caves have long been associated with aboriginal habitation in North America. However, these sites are often exploited by predatory and scavenging animals as well. In the case of the sandstone rockshelters of the Big South Fork River area of the Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee and Kentucky, three groups of animals are potentially important as taphonomic agents in vertebrate faunal assemblages. Background research and experimentation with (1) woodrats, (2) raptorial birds, and (3) mammalian predators and scavengers reveal patterns in bone accumulation and modification that may provide a basis for the identification of these particular agents from faunal assemblages. Analysis of 92 vertebrate assemblages from rockshelters of the Big South Fork area reveal patterns in bone modification, taxonomic composition, and diversity indicative of a broad spectrum of influences. Sites range from entirely natural to fully cultural; the majority, however, exemplify a mixture of both natural and cultural components. The general implications of zooarcheological research are manifest: understanding the the post-modern history of archeofaunal assemblages is an absolute prerequisite to higher level analyses. Well-grounded taphonomic evaluations are not produced by intuitive reasoning, reliance on nonempirically-based assumptions, or inadequate recognition of potentially relevant criteria. Taphonomy is a scientific methodology based on the assumption that the fossil record is the product of an orderly and therefore knowable sequence of phenomena. The adequate assessment of the historical integrity of archeofaunal assemblages is ultimately the product of:

1. Observation and experimentation with contemporary phenomena and elaboration of empirical generalizations correlating specific patterns with particular causes.

2. Application by logic of analogy, correlations between patterns and dynamic processes discovered through observation and experimentation, to a particular fossil assemblage.

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