Bioarchaeology of the Near East, 7:3-20 (2013)

The excavation and analysis of porcupine dens and burrowing on ancient and recent faunal and human remains at Tel Zahara (Israel)

Wieslaw Wieckowski* (1), Susan Cohen (2), Henk K. Mienis (3), Liora Kolska Horwitz (3)

(1) Institute of Archaeology, University of Warsaw,
Krakowskie Przedmieście 26/28, 00-927 Warszawa, Poland
email: (corresponding author)
(2) Department of History and Philosophy, Montana State University,
2-155 Wilson Hall, Bozeman, MT 59717, USA
(3) National Natural History Collections, Faculty of Life Science,
Berman Bld., Givat Ram Campus, The Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel

Abstract: The destruction to, and disturbance of, archaeological deposits by burrowing animals (bioturbation), and particularly by rodents (rodenturbation), is well-attested. The attraction of burrowing rodents to archaeological sites exists for the same reason that humans also desire to excavate them: the presence of architectural features, material culture, and other evidence of human activity left behind in the soil. For the human excavator, this presents opportunities to analyze the human past; for the burrowing rodent, the looser soil provides easier material through which to dig, as well as increased access to biological and other remains. In particular, cemeteries possess an additional attraction for these rodents, as the presence of human skeletal remains provide increased opportunities for bone-gnawing for the animal population. The recent investigation of modern Indian porcupine (Hystrix indica) activity in a pre-1948 Muslim cemetery and in other archaeological contexts at Tel Zahara, located in the Central Jordan Valley in Israel, has furnished further data regarding effects of burrowing activity and bone-gnawing on both faunal and human remains. These results have implications for future study of the role of rodents in the post-depositional modification of both cemetery and other stratified remains at archaeological sites in Israel and elsewhere.

Key words: bioturbation; rodenturbation; Indian porcupine; Near East; Tel Zahara

Received 23 October 2012; accepted 6 February 2013; published online 13 April 2013.

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