Understanding taphonomy can give us many clues about the environment that an animal lived and died in. In particular, it can be very useful when it comes to studying bonebeds, geological deposits that are full of many bones. Here, I'll go through a step by step example of the things you can learn from bonebed taphonomy from the moment you find the bonebed, to the fine details you can find in a lab.
When you first find a bonebed, there are several features that you notice first, like the number of bones, the number of taxa, how the bones are orientated, and how complete the skeletons are, which give us a wide range of information. The number of bones can obviously tell you how many animals are found there, while the number of taxa can tell you about how those animals came to be there. For example, bonebeds that consist of mainly one species, and all ranges of sizes are likely to be from a herd or pack of animals that all perished at one time in a catastrophic event. On the other hand, bonebeds with several taxa may be characteristic of something like a predator trap where many animals go (like a watering hole), and are then killed by predators, leaving several different kinds of bones over a long period of time. These are termed monotaxic (only one taxa present), multitaxic monodominant (more than one taxa, but there is primarily one), or multitaxic multidominant (more than one taxa, with more than one dominant taxa).
|The Edmontosaurus bonebed in Edmonton. An example of a multitaxic monodominant bonebed. Photo by Liz Martin.|
|Example of a map of a ceratopsian bonebed showing the orientation of different bones .|
|Possible beetle feeding traces on a Jurassic dinosaur Camptosaurus from the US .|
|Bite marks on a humerus of Saurolophus .|
1. Eberth, D. A., et al. 2007. A practical approach to the study of bonebeds. In Rogers, R. R. et al. (eds.) Bonebeds: Genetic Analysis, and Paleobiological Significance. pp 265-333.
2. Britt, B. B., et al. 2008. A suite of dermestid beetle traces on dinosaur bone from the Upper Jurassic Morisson Formation, Wyoming, USA. Ichnos 15: 59-71.
3. Hone, D. W. E., and Watabe, M. 2010. New information on scavenging and selective feeding behaviour of tyrannosaurids. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 55: 627-634.
Eberth, D. A., et al. 2007. A bonebeds database: classification, biases, and patterns of occurrence. In Rogers, R. R. et al. (eds.) Bonebeds: Genetic Analysis, and Paleobiological Significance. pp. 103-221.