The processes by which human remains are scattered and destroyed by mammalian vertebrate scavenging behaviors are significant to forensic death investigations, in terms of focusing search techniques, improving remains recovery, and contributing to more timely and successful case resolution. This study utilized domestic pig (Sus scrofa) carcasses as human analogues, placed at a wildlife conservation area during three seasons, to assess members of the scavenger guild of the area, their associated behavior, and related effects on remains to address these issues. Carcasses were observed by digital video, motion triggered game cameras, and site visits. Biological radio telemetry transmitters, which are typically used to track living wildlife, were implanted in carcasses to assess long distance movement of skeletal elements. It was shown that there were three main participants in the vertebrate scavenger guild, the coyote (Canis latrans), the Virginia opossum (Didelphis viriginiana), and the bobcat (Lynx rufus). Each of these species left unique taphonomic identifiers on carcasses. They also contributed significantly to the destruction and dispersal of skeletal elements. There were clear patterns in time of carcass acquisition, tissues consumed by each species, and the subsequent dispersal of elements caused by each activity. Mammalian scavenging drastically increased time to skeletonization, which has the potential to lead to inaccurate estimations of post-deposition/post-mortem interval using current techniques. Further research is needed to understand if these patterns are similar in human adult remains and other ecoregions.
Kama King – 2015