Warning: This post includes photos of a human skeleton that may be disturbing to some readers.
The land that Texas State University uses to observe how human bodies decompose has led to a recent discovery. But this particular discovery doesn’t have anything to do with humans.
As Texas State scientists observed one deer (or possibly two different ones) pick up a human rib bone with its mouth and casually gnaw on it, “extending from the side of the mouth like a cigar,” they realized they were looking at something unusual, they wrote in a recently published paper. In fact, it was “the first known evidence of a white-tailed deer scavenging human bones,” three Texas State scientists wrote in the Journal of Forensic Sciences.
The focus at the Forensic Anthropology Center at Texas State is usually on the human bodies themselves, but the center decided this observation was too intriguing not to share.
“While most forensic anthropologist and taphonomists are aware that carnivorous non-human animals chew on and consume human bones, the fact that ungulate (a.k.a. hooved) species also gnaw on human bone is not as widely recognized,” they wrote.
By the time this deer got to the body – which had been donated for science – it was essentially a skeleton. Many wild animals (but not deer) are known to scavenge human remains on the 26 acres of land that the Forensic Anthropology Center uses to study human decomposition in nature. These scientists use observations such as these to help people like medical examiners who are working to determine, for example, if trauma to a body was caused by a weapon or a raccoon.
“Researchers have observed deer scavenging non-human bone many times in the past, but this is the first time we have observed it with human bones thanks to the unique research happening at the Forensic Anthropology Research Facility at Texas State University,” said one of the scientists, Lauren Meckel. “We were surprised only because we see the deer so often in the photos from our motion-sensored cameras. Usually they walk around the skeleton and sniff it a few times, but never had we seen the deer actually pick up one of the bones.”