Taphonomic bias in preservation and representativeness of skeletal samples (a case of Gonur Depe) 

Kufterin V.V., Sataev R.M., Dubova N.A.

 

Vestnik arheologii, antropologii i etnografii, 2022, 1 (56)

 

https://doi.org/10.20874/2071-0437-2022-56-1-12

 

              page 148157

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Abstract

The topic of this article is theoretical and practical issues underlying the problems of representativeness of skeletal samples, as well as age and sex biases in preservation of skeletal remains, and the impact of these factors on paleodemographic reconstructions. The impact of taphonomic bias in preservation on the qualitative and quantitative composition of skeletal sample is discussed on the materials from Gonur Depe a Bronze Age proto-urban center in Southern Turkmenistan (25001500 BC, BMAC Bactria-Margiana archaeological complex, also referred to as Oxus Civilization). The analyzed sample consists of skeletal remains of 500 individuals (215 non-adults, 115 adult males and 170 adult females) excavated between 2008 and 2015. Based on the type of preservation of skeletal remains, their completeness, as well as the preservation index (computed for each individual by dividing the number of long bones present by 14 their maximum number per individual), three preservation classes were identified, of which class 1 corresponds to poor, and class 3 to good state of preservation. Comparison of sex and age groups per each preservation class using hi-square test demonstrates that in the Gonur Depe skeletal remains of infants (04 years old) and young adults (under 35 years of age) show the best state of preservation. Skeletons of elderly adults (over 35 years of age) have the worst state of preservation. There are no statistically significant differences between sexes in the degree of bone preservation. On the one hand, these results, contrary to theoretical expectations, testify against the existence of taphonomic biases in preservation of infant and female skeletons. On the other hand, the underrepresentation of elderly individuals in the studied collection is probably explained by a decrease in resistance to taphonomic processes due to the accelerated loss of bone calcium. It has been concluded that age and sex-related biases in the demographic structure of prehistoric skeletal samples cannot be universally explained by the preservation factor. Misrepresentation in the percentage of different age and sex groups is a non-linear and a complicated process that requires consideration of different factors affecting the qualitative and quantitative composition of a particular skeletal sample. A detailed assessment of the taphonomic characteristics of a studied skeletal collection should be a mandatory step prior to its analysis by paleodemographic methods.

Keywords: paleodemography, taphonomy, skeletal samples, Bronze Age, Turkmenistan.

 

Funding. The article has been written in accordance with the research plans of the N.N. Miklukho-Maklai Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology RAS (Theme No. 5. Cross-cultural and interdisciplinary studies of archaic and modern societies).

 

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Accepted: 16.12.2021

Article is published: 21.03.2022

 

Kufterin V.V., N.N. Miklukho-Maklai Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology RAS, Leninsky prosp., 32a, Moscow, 119334, Russian Federation, E-mail: vladimirkufterin@mail.ru, https://orcid.org/0000-0002-7171-8998
 

Sataev R.M., N.N. Miklukho-Maklai Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology RAS, Leninsky prosp., 32a, Moscow, 119334, Russian Federation, E-mail: rob-sataev@mail.ru, https://orcid.org/0000-0001-9980-3345
 

Dubova N.A., N.N. Miklukho-Maklai Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology RAS, Leninsky prosp., 32a, Moscow, 119334, Russian Federation, E-mail: dubova_n@mail.ru,  https://orcid.org/0000-0002-4340-1037