Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

Anthropology (Forensic Anthropology Option)

Department or School/College

Department of Anthropology

Committee Chair

Randall Skelton

Commitee Members

Dave Dyer, Ashley McKeown


scavenging, wolves, forensic anthropologu, taphonomy


University of Montana


Forensic anthropologists often confront external influences on a body, whether they are human, animal, or environmental. One of the major and most common confounding factors for forensic anthropologists is animal scavenging and the damage this inflicts on the skeleton. The types of scavengers present vary from region to region, and in the Northwest, large carnivores such as bears, mountain lions, and canids are abundant. These types of carnivores can not only inflict incredible trauma to a skeleton, they can also disperse the remains over very large areas, making it difficult for forensic teams to recover all of the skeletal elements for identification. Research has been done on tooth mark and bite mark patterns so that scavengers can be differentiated, but there is very little research on how an animal’s behavior may affect the context of a deposition site. The purpose of this research is to closely examine the scavenging patterns of a large carnivore common in the Northwest, wolves, by presenting a carcass to a captive wolf pack and visually observing their behavior, especially scavenging behaviors such as targeted areas of the body, the dispersal of remains, and caching. The hypothesis is that if a scavenger is able to be identified at the scene, then based on the animal’s typical scavenging behavior, forensic professionals can narrow the parameters of their search and hopefully recover more skeletal elements that could be crucial to reconstructing the context of the scene. The results of this study reject the null hypothesis that scavengers cannot by distinguished from one another based on their patterns of behavior when encountering a carcass. The scavenging behavior of a wolf pack varies significantly from that of bears or mountain lions, given the differences between pack hunters and solitary hunters. It will be considerably harder to distinguish between wolves and other canids, especially coyotes, although differences in tooth and jaw morphology may assist with this.



© Copyright 2012 Jamie Bankaitis