Taphonomic research of bones can provide additional insight into a site's formation and development, the burial environment and ongoing post-mortem processes. A total of 30 tortoise (Cylindraspis) femur bone samples from the Mare aux Songes site (Mauritius)were studied histologically, assessing parameters such as presence and type of microbial alteration, inclusions, staining/infiltrations, the degree of microcracking and birefringence. The absence of microbial attack in the 4200 year old Mare aux Songes bones suggests the animals rapidly entered the soil whole-bodied and were sealed anoxically, although they suffered frombiological and chemical degradation (i.e. pyrite formation/oxidation, mineral dissolution and staining) related to changes in the site's hydrology. Additionally, carbon and nitrogen stable isotopeswere analysed to obtain information on the animals' feeding behaviour. The results show narrowly distributed δ13C ratios, indicating a terrestrial C3 plant-based diet, combined with a wide range in δ15N ratios. This is most likely related to the tortoises' drought-adaptive ability to change their metabolic processes, which can affect the δ15N ratios. Furthermore, ZooMS collagen fingerprinting analysis successfully identified two tortoise species (C. triserrata and C. inepta) in the bone assemblage,which,when combined with stable isotope data, revealed significantly different δ15N ratios between the two tortoise species. As climatic changes around this period resulted in increased aridity in the Mascarene Islands, this could explain the extremely elevated δ15N ratio in our dataset. The endemic fauna was able to endure the climatic changes 4200 years ago, although human arrival in the 17th century changed the original habitat to such an extent that it resulted in the extinction of several species. Fortunately we are still able to study these extinct tortoises due to the beneficial conditions of their burial environment, resulting in excellent bone preservation.
- Stable isotopes
van der Sluis, L. G., Hollund, H. I., Buckley, M., de Louw, P. G. B., Rijsdijk, K. F., & Kars, H. (2014). Combining histology, stable isotope analysis and ZooMS collagen fingerprinting to investigate the taphonomic history and dietary behaviour of extinct giant tortoises from the Mare aux Songes deposit on Mauritius. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 416, 80-91. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2014.06.003