Welcome to the third installment of the Carnal Carnival, this month on the science of taphonomy.
What is taphonomy? Roughly, it’s the study of what happens to an organism after death, from decay through whatever eventually becomes of its remains. Applied to paleontology, especially, it’s a kind of prehistoric CSI in which the circumstances of an organism’s death and preservation can be investigated. It’s not a pretty science – scientists regularly observe the breakdown of extant species to study what happened to animals which perished long ago – but every bone and skeleton has a story to tell about the death and postmortem “life” of the animal it represents. This month’s crop of posts dig into this gooey topic and represent a range of perspectives on everything from the decay of recently-deceased mammals to the process by which fossils are made.
– At A Blog Around the Clock, Bora considers the secrets of dinosaur death poses.
– What happens to a deer after it dies? Find out at the Snail’s Tails.
– The taphonomy of caves is notoriously difficult to figure out. Predators, flooding, and a slew of other forces influence the distribution of bones in caves. Nevertheless, as the History of Geology blog illustrates, accumulations of skeletal remains in caves have been very important to the development of ideas about earth history.
– It’s a good thing that prehistoric carnivores were messy eaters; their table scraps make up a significant part of the primate fossil record on Kenya’s Rusinga Island!
– Is that a sea monster? Naw, just a rotting raccoon – Tetrapod Zoology dissects the hype around the “Montauk Monster”
– The Disillusioned Taxonomist turns a dead fox in his garden into a DIY science project.
– Thoughtomics considers what it takes to become a fossil.
– Hmm… burial, cremation, or alkaline hydrolysis? Hectocotyli weighs the options.
– By feeding dead baboons to leopards, scientists find a way to identify the victims of big cat attacks.
– I have to admit that when the term “taphonomy” comes up I most often think of extinct mammals and dinosaurs, but bacteria have their own fossil record, too. Lab Rat introduces us to the wonderful microscopic world of bacterial fossils and the unique circumstances under which they form.
– Speaking of bacteria, the little buggers may actually play an important role in turning bone to stone.
– Added October 25th: Robert Boessenecker shares his SVP poster about what a few barnacle-encrusted bones can tell us about the decomposition of a prehistoric sea lion.
Image: On the side of a suburban New Jersey road, a turkey vulture looks at the carcass of a white-tailed deer and thinks “I don’t know where to start.” Scavengers play an important role in the breakdown of vertebrate carcasses. (Photo by author.)