2009 Portland GSA Annual Meeting (18-21 October 2009)

Paper No. 1
Presentation Time: 8:00 AM


EVANS, Thomas, Department of Earth Sciences, Montana State University, PO Box 173480, Bozeman, MT 59717, cavertevans@gmail.com

Paleontologists, archaeologists, and forensic scientists all utilize taphonomic data to interpret the remains they recover. All three fields are interested in the same processes, albeit at different temporal scales, consequently similar experiments and observational studies have been performed in each field. Needless time, resources, and money are spent carrying out experiments on only portions of the taphonomic history of a set of remains. If members from the three fields collaborated to perform one experiment from inception and experiment design to publication, all three fields would benefit from a coherent longitudinal data set. Rather than performing three experiments, one would suffice, and the results from different phases could be used by each principle investigator as per their research interests.

Taphonomic experiments should be designed using multiple working hypotheses, utilizing biological material (bodies) with known and standard histories. Data collection should be standardized to facilitate comparisons with later studies across disciplines. Well designed experiments include controls, multiple treatment groups with large sample sizes, random assignment of samples to each treatment, and long durations (including bone weathering). When completed, studies should be replicated to constrain the variability within and between treatments and trials. Analytically statistics should be used to quantify the variability and differences between treatments. Each investigator should learn which statistical tools are appropriate for each data set, and how to correctly apply them. Previous research, including the initial ‘classic’ studies, should be repeated and their conclusions tested. Too frequently we accept previous research uncritically, leading to further studies based on false conclusions since the original research was not subjected to falsification. If these guidelines are followed there will be a general increase in taphonomic information gathered for a lower cost and over a shorter time. Collaboration will improve experimental design, data analysis, and applications to the historical problems faced by each investigator. This will result in the field of taphonomy moving forward faster and improve the scientific quality of the research performed in all three disciplines.