Lynx cubs are responsible of many of the alterations observed on rabbit bones found at archaeological sites

This is confirmed by a research lead by the IPHES and now published by the journal Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology

The experimental study was conducted in Zarza de Granadilla (Spain), one of the captive breeding centers of the Lynxexsitu program which is engaged in the conservation of this species

This analysis has been possible thanks to the collaboration of the Doñana Biological Station  

The work has its conceptual base on actualism, which means that past behaviors can be extrapolated to currently Prehistory records


As if it were the clarification of the actors involved in a crime and the environment that hosted it, find out how remains are accumulated in an archaeological site, the modifications and alterations suffered since they were abandoned and which agents had taken part of it, is the key to understand the context where human evolution has been developed over time. Taphonomy is the science that deals with it. Sometimes is not easy to identify the actors. Therefore, the study of the marks on the fossil remains and customs of those who produced them can be useful to recognize much better if a bone accumulation has an anthropogenic origin or to which species can be attached it.

In this frame we have to mention one research just published online in the journal Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology entitled “Expansion of the referential framework for rabbits fossil accumulations generated by the Iberian lynx”, whose lead author is Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo, researcher at IPHES, and two other co-authors of the same institute, Palmira Saladié and Antoni Canals, which are also scientist at the Universitat Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona, and Juan Marín (Equipo Primeros Pobladores de Extremadura – EPPEX).

Environmental scanning electron microscope image (ESEM) of damages on rabbit bone conduced by Iberian lynx cubs. Note tooth marks in form of scoring. Picture A. Rodriguez-Hidalgo

It was known that adult lynxes are important rabbit bones modifiers, as the same team published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, but now it is also shown that their cubs, when they are in or near to their dens, also modify the remains in the same way as their parents do, although leaving different tooth marks on bones. This new data increase the knowledge of the Iberian lynx as a taphonomic agent and serves to deepen the variability of their feeding behavior.

Actualism and analogies

The study has its conceptual base on actualism. It is considered that the modifications generated by the lynx today are very similar or identical to those made in the Prehistory. Following this principle, the data which is experimentally obtained is used to establish analogies with the information from archeopaleontological record.

This way, has been conducted a taphonomical study of the rabbit remains consumed by a female lynx and her cubs during the breeding season at the captive breeding center of Granadilla in Zarza de Granadilla (Cáceres, Spain), one of the four centers of Spain included in the Lynxexsitu program, which aims focus on the preservation of this species. Antonio Rodríguez says: “In previous works we have studied modified rabbit remains by adult lynxes and now our hypothesis was that the cubs could produce different modifications from adults”.

In this new research it has been found that when female lynxes breed their cubs, “they hide them in dens (in tree trunks or caves) to protect them from predators. In these times of breeding, the mother carries the rabbits into the den, where the young ones are safe. In this context, lynxes can be large accumulators and modifiers of rabbit remains and, therefore, important taphonomical agents that could generate a recognizable impact in the sites”, says Antonio Rodriguez.

Empirical data

“With this information we extend the framework on how lynxes modify the bones of their prey, and therefore to increase the knowledge of taphonomic signatures of the lynxes. At the same time, we obtain empirical data to acknowledge their participation in the fossils accumulations”, says the same archaeologist.

“Right now -says Rodriguez- we are experimentally working with the modifications made by the lynxes on other preys such as birds, this research was presented at the last meeting of the UISPP (Unión Internacional de Ciencias Prehistóricas y Protohistóricas) held in Burgos in September. In this analysis we apply the results of two archaeological sites: La Cueva de Maltravieso (Cáceres, Spain) and Cova Foradada (Calafell, Tarragona, Spain).

This IPHES´s research project is possible thanks to the collaboration of the Doñana Biological Station (EBD-CSIC) and especially the iberian lynx research and conservation program, Lynxexsitu.


Rodríguez-Hidalgo, A.,  Saladié, P., Marín, J., and Canals, A.; ‘Expansion of the Referential Framework for the Rabbit Fossil Accumulations Generated by Iberian Lynx’, Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 418 (2015), 1-11. doi:10.1016/j.palaeo.2014.11.010


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