Eagles, owls, and coyotes (oh my!): Taphonomic analysis of rabbits and guinea pigs fed to captive raptors and coyotes

Aaron Armstrong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


There is the potential for multiple accumulating agents of small mammals (<. 4.5. kg body weight) at fossil sites, however, the lack of diverse predator and prey experimental and actualistic studies often makes it difficult to attribute the accumulator(s) of small mammals. I report the results of experimentally created assemblages of rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) and guinea pigs (Cavia porcellus) fed to a bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), great horned owl (Bubo virginianus), and coyote (Canis latrans). The analysis provides a taphonomic assessment of two small mammal taxa that differ in size and build and are broadly representative of small mammals recovered from archaeological sites. The ingested and non-ingested portions of the prey remains were analyzed for skeletal-, digested-, deleted-, and fractured-part representation, bone breakage, and bone surface modifications. The rabbit and guinea pig samples are compared and taphonomic differences between predators and prey taxa are observed. The predators produced variable and distinctive intra- and interspecific skeletal-, digested-, deleted-, and fractured part profiles. Bone surface modification frequency differences between the samples show a mixture of significant and non-significant intra- and interspecific comparisons. This study expands the range of small mammal experimental and actualistic studies to include prey of underrepresented size and build (guinea pigs) and characterizes the signatures of predator accumulations of small mammals. Often archaeological assemblages feature a mixture of accumulators, this analysis of raptor and mammalian carnivore predation on rabbits and guinea pigs will aid in the differentiation of predation between raptors, mammalian carnivores, and humans in the archaeological record.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)135-155
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science: Reports
StatePublished - Feb 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
I would like to thank Gail Buhl, Julia Ponder, and the staff at the University of Minnesota's Raptor Center as well as Peggy Callahan and the staff at the Carlos Avery Wildlife Science Center for providing access to the predators in this study and facilitating their feeding. Sanford Weisberg from the School of Statistics at the University of Minnesota provided valuable advice regarding statistical analyses. I would also like to thank Martha Tappen and Kirsten Jenkins for their careful reading of early drafts of this paper. I am especially grateful to Keith Manthie and Adam Cossette for their hard work and assistance in transporting, cleaning, identifying, and sorting the assemblages; the study would not have been possible without their contribution. This research was supported by funding from the Department of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota through a Departmental Block Grant.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Elsevier Ltd.


  • Actualistic study
  • Anatomical representation
  • Bald eagle
  • Beak marks
  • Bone breakage
  • Coyote
  • Digested bone
  • Great horned owl
  • Small prey
  • Taphonomy


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