Cutmarks and carcass decay

Cutmarks are scratches produced when a flint or metal knife strikes the surface of a bone or tooth. Museum researchers are investigating whether cutmarks can be used to determine the stage of carcass decay in ancient remains.

Cutmarks on human remains can relate to funerary practices such as cannibalism or defleshing and body disarticulation. 

The time interval between the death of an organism and the production of cutmarks is often unclear. 

This project will use micro-morphometric characteristics of cutmarks to assess the stage of carcass decay.

We will analyse data collected from experimentation on non-human carcasses and two large human archaeological assemblages using an environmental scanning electron microscope and Alicona 3D InfiniteFocus imaging.

  • Human rib from Gough's Cave, Somerset.
    Project background

    We are developing criteria to assess the time between an individual's death and cutmarks being made on teeth or bone. Find out how this data can improve our understanding of ancient hunting, scavenging and funerary practices.

  • Microscopy methods for cutmarks.

    We are using a combination of microscopy techniques to study experimental cutmarks on non-human carcasses and ancient cutmarks from human remains. 

Project details

Project title
Cut-mark micro-morphometrics and the stage of carcass decay: a pilot study using 3D microscopy.

The Leverhulme Trust

Dr Silvia Bello 
Principal Investigator
Prof Chris Stringer 
Co-Principal Investigator 
Dr Rosalind Wallduck 
Post-Doctoral Researcher