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The SEM in taphonomic research and its application to studies of cutmarks generally and the determination of handedness specifically

AutorBromage, T. G.; Bermúdez de Castro, José María; Fernández-Jalvo, Yolanda
Fecha de publicación1991
CitaciónAnthropologie 29(3): 163-169 (1991)
ResumenOne level of taphonomic investigation concerns the preferential representation and distribution of whole animal skeletal elements in various environmental settings. Another level of investigation concerns the study of alterations to the normal mineralized issue morphology and constitution due to weathering, transport, trampling, soil chemistry, animal toothmarks, butchering marks, etc. From the latter type of investigation has sprung the subfield of "microscopic taphonomy" focusing on microstructural effects of taphonomic agents for which the scanning electron microscope (SEM) has been the preferred instrument. We review here the salient literature on SEM-based microscopic taphonomy. We believe that the SEM has contributed much to our understanding of taphonomic processes especially as they relate to reconstructions of the hominid behavioral complex. However, very little progress has been made concerning one of taphonomy's principal objectives: paleoecological reconstruction. Recent criticism of SEM-based cutmark studies as a "high tech craze" is founded in ignorance of the motivations that anthropologists have to extract useful information from microscopic cutmark features. One of the more recent applications of microscopic taphonomy has been the determination of handedness from cutmark distribution and morphology. Experimental studies illustrate simple criteria for the determination of handedness. These criteria have been applied to Middle Pleistocene cutmarks demonstrating a long history for the preponderance of right-handedness.
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