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Taphonomic studies of the cave bear discoveries from Schwabenreith Cave near Lunz am See in Lower Austria Taphonomische Untersuchungen der Hoehlenbaeren-Fundstellen in der Schwabenreith-Hoehle bei Lunz am See Niederoesterreich


, : Taphonomic studies of the cave bear discoveries from Schwabenreith Cave near Lunz am See in Lower Austria Taphonomische Untersuchungen der Hoehlenbaeren-Fundstellen in der Schwabenreith-Hoehle bei Lunz am See Niederoesterreich. Beitraege zur Palaeontologie, 25: 11-85

Schwabenreith-Cave is located near Lunz am See in the western part of Lower Austria. The entrance lies at 959m above sea1evel. This study is based on rich cave bear material recovered during excavation campaigns carried out by the Institute of Paleontology in Vienna from 1990 until 1996. According to radiometric datas from flowstone samples the bear remains are considered as of early wurmian age. No remains of other great mammals or Paleolithic men are evident in this site. Schwabenreith-Cave is the first alpine cave bear site which is analyzed according to a taphonomic point of view. Different methods were used to achieve comprehensive results. Quantitative analysis, refitting of bones, spatial distribution of skeletal elements as well as the analysis of bone modifications yielded new implications concerning the taphonomic history of cave bear remains. The analysis of material from excavation area 1 and 2 revealed characteristics of two taphonomic distinct types of sites within the same cave. Preservation and spatial orientation of bones revealed various traces of different taphonomic agents as well as processes, which influenced site formation of both areas. The fossil history reconstructed from these evidences is discussed. Area 1 is indicated by low density of findings. Skeletal elements such as long bones seemed to be orientated. Therefore it is assumed that site formation took place under influence of a low current flow. Remains of neonates and juveniles outweigh the bone material of adult bears. Representation of adult remains is quite balanced, although some elements are missing or only represented by fragments within this small sample. The preservation of bones is extraordinary. Few remains show biting marks. It cannot be stated out clearly how an illegal excavation influenced the representation of skeletal elements. In area 2 the abundance of bear remains is very high. All skeletal elements are represented. Despite the density of remains, taphonomic analysis verifies a certain transport of bones. It probably must have been taken place within a plastic sediment which contained some amount of water. The spatial distribution of bones and a low inclination of layers are indicating a transport of remains NW-SE or NW-SW. Concerning bone modifications biting marks are evident. Their intensity is very low. As in area 1 most likely cave bears themselves were responsible for these 2 traces. The results of the taphonomic analysis of area 2 make it inevitable to reconsider findings of articulated parts of cave bear skeletons. Until today such remains have been considered as evidence for cave bear bones on primary deposition. Looking at the cave itself we can still speak of a thanatocoenoses of bear remains, but not with regard to excavation area 2. Most of the few articulated parts of single skeletons of this area have probably been transported in correct anatomical position. This interpretation of articulated remains is completed by some considerations about natural disarticulation of bear skeleton. Results obtained from the cave bear material of Schwabenreith-Cave could serve as standard in comparison for further taphonomic investigations in cave bear localities. As a first step a better comparable set of methods of investigations must be established.

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