Taphonomy of Verreaux's Eagle (Aquila verreauxii) prey accumulations from the Cape Floral Region, South Africa: Implications for archaeological interpretations

Aaron Armstrong, Graham Avery

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13 Scopus citations


We conducted a taphonomic analysis of modern prey accumulations of Verreaux's Eagle (VE; Aquila verreauxii) from the Cape Floral Region of South Africa. VE nest in or around cliffs and rocky outcrops, places that also attract other bone accumulators, including humans. Therefore, it is necessary to characterize the signatures of VE bone accumulation with as much precision as possible in order to differentiate between the prey remains of other bone accumulators, especially in relation to fossil assemblages that originate in and around cliffs, rock shelters, and caves. Towards this end, we describe the taxonomic composition, skeletal-part representation, bone breakage patterns, and bone surface modifications of mammal bones as well as the range of variability within those signatures. Based on the frequency of bone modifications we determine that VE modify the bones of their prey more often than do other eagle species. We suggest that taphonomic patterns derived from predation by other eagle taxa are not the most appropriate means to identify VE predation in faunal assemblages. In addition, we conclude that there is patterned variability in the ways that VE accumulate and modify the bones of their prey. There are two distinct skeletal-parts preservation, bone breakage, and bone surface modification patterns among the prey in our sample: one that characterizes hyraxes, mole-rats, and carnivores, and another that characterizes hares and bovids. Faunal analysts investigating the potential role of VE at fossil sites should be aware of 1) these taphonomic patterns and differences and 2) that there is no singular pattern of accumulation. We define patterns of preservation, breakage, and bone modification that can be employed on a taxon-specific basis to distinguish VE prey remains from other bone accumulators.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)163-183
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
StatePublished - Aug 28 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Iziko Museums of South Africa and the Curators of the Archaeology, Cenozoic Studies, and Comparative Osteology sections, in particular, for providing laboratory space and access to material in the Taphonomy and Osteological Collections for this study. The samples were collected and donated to Iziko by Guy Palmer and staff of Cape Nature; Simone Brunton and Ross Lyall-Jennings helped to clean and sort the sample; Sanford Weisburg, School of Statistics, University of Minnesota, advised on the statistical analyses; Martha Tappen, Anthropology, University of Minnesota, provided helpful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript and; three anonymous reviewers made valuable suggestions. Their support, and that provided to AA by the National Science Foundation through Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant # 1102284, is gratefully acknowledged.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 Elsevier Ltd.


  • Archaeozoology
  • Carcass modification
  • Raptor
  • Small prey
  • Taphonomy
  • Verreaux's Eagle


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