Understanding the Impact of Trampling on Rodent Bones

Yolanda Fernández-Jalvo, Lucía Rueda, Fernando Julian Fernández, Sara García-Morato, María Dolores Marin-Monfort, Claudia Ines Montalvo, Rodrigo Tomassini, Michael Chazan, Liora K. Horwitz, Peter Andrews

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Experiments based on the premise of uniformitarism are an effective tool to establish patterns of taphonomic processes acting either before, or after, burial. One process that has been extensively investigated experimentally is the impact of trampling to large mammal bones. Since trampling marks caused by sedimentary friction strongly mimic cut marks made by humans using stone tools during butchery, distinguishing the origin of such modifications is especially relevant to the study of human evolution. In contrast, damage resulting from trampling on small mammal fossil bones has received less attention, despite the fact that it may solve interesting problems relating to site formation processes. While it has been observed that the impact of compression depends on the type of substrate and dryness of the skeletal elements, the fragility of small mammal bones may imply that they will break as a response to compression. Here, we have undertaken a controlled experiment using material resistance compression equipment to simulate a preliminary experiment, previously devised by one of us, on human trampling of owl pellets. Our results demonstrate that different patterns of breakage can be distinguished under wet and dry conditions in mandibles, skulls and long bones that deform or break in a consistent way. Further, small compact bones almost always remain intact, resisting breakage under compression. The pattern obtained here was applied to a Pleistocene small mammal fossil assemblage from Wonderwerk Cave (South Africa). This collection showed unusually extensive breakage and skeletal element representation that could not be entirely explained by excavation procedures or digestion by the predator. We propose that trampling was a significant factor in small mammal bone destruction at Wonderwerk Cave, partly the product of trampling caused by the raptor that introduced the microfauna into the cave, as well as by hominins and other terrestrial animals that entered the cave and trampled pellets covering the cave floor.

Original languageEnglish
Article number11
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2022
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


This project was funded by a Leakey Foundation grant to F.-J.Y. and the project CGL2016-79334-P of the Spanish National Program funded by the Ministry of Scientific Research and Innovation and the Spanish Council of Scientific Research (COOPB20287). Funding for field work at Wonder-werk Cave is provided by a grant from the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) to C.M. The Université de Rennes 1 (France) and the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales (CSIC, Spain) provided the Convention de Stage n. 46360 to R.L. to do this work as practical stage of the Master M2 mention Biologie-agro-santé spécialité préhistoire, paléontologie et paléoenvironnememt in 2015. G.-M.S. has a pre-doctoral grant funded by the Universidad Complutense de Madrid (UCM) and Banco Santander (CT42/18-CT43/18).

FundersFunder number
Ministry of Scientific Research and Innovation
Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales
Spanish Council of Scientific ResearchCOOPB20287
Leakey FoundationCGL2016-79334-P
Banco SantanderCT42/18-CT43/18
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada
Universidad Complutense de Madrid
Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas46360
Université de Rennes 1


    • Bone compression
    • Experimental taphonomy
    • Microfauna
    • Wonderwerk Cave


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