Observations of the impacts of mechanical plowing on buried remains in forensic and archaeological contexts
Newcomb, Alyssa Marie
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Among the numerous taphonomic influences that can impact biological remains, agricultural activity has one of the most widespread effects. The present research examines the impacts of agricultural activities on buried skeletal remains, both in archaeological and medicolegal contexts. Juvenile pig (Sus scrofa) skeletons were utilized to simulate buried juvenile human aged 3 to 5 years to test the influence of original burial depths and different plowing intervals on the dispersal and the degree of damage caused by an offset disk plow. Ten juvenile pig skeletons were buried in relatively anatomical position, five at a bottom depth of 15 cmbs (cm below the surface) and five at 22 cmbs. They were subjected to different intervals of plowing with one burial at each depth subjected to a single, three, five, seven, or ten plow passes. The disturbed area was surveyed for surface material, and the plow furrows were excavated in 1 m by 1 m units. The excavated soil was screened using a ¼" mesh screen, except for two burials that were screened using a nested ¼" and ⅛" mesh screen to test the differences in recovery between the two screen sizes. The recovered skeletal material was inventoried and assessed for damage. The results of this research showed that while original burial depth had some effect on distribution of bone and the degree to which bone was damaged, the relationship was not statistically significant. The number of plowing intervals did have a significant effect on the distribution and degree of damage. The damage caused to bone by the offset disk plow would be distinguishable from perimortem trauma in dry bone. Comparison of the recovery rates of ¼" and ⅛" mesh found that ⅛" contributed to a higher recovery of juvenile remains at least 3 to 5 years of age in soil with a high gravel content.