Anthropology, Department of


Date of this Version



Byrnes, Jennifer F. and William R. Belcher. 2021. Multi-agent scavenging patterns in Hawai'i: a forensic archaeological and skeletal case study. Science and Justice 61:723-734.



Copyright © 2021 The Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences. Published by Elsevier B.V. Used by permission.


Knowledge of the behavior of local fauna can aid forensic investigators in developing awareness of site formation processes. In Hawai‘i, little has been published on the effects of feral domestic pig (Sus scrofa) and feral domestic dog (Canis familiaris) scavenging and bone dispersal on field recovery and laboratory observations. In this Pacific tropical setting, the most consequential terrestrial taphonomic agents are pigs and dogs, both in terms of hard tissue modification and dispersal of remains across the landscape. In 2017, an archaeologist discovered the remains of an unidentified decedent on the island of Kauaʻi, State of Hawai‘i during a cultural resource management survey. Subsequently, a forensic recovery team in conjunction with Kaua‘i police and crime scene investigators used archaeological techniques, including pedestrian survey, tape-and-compass, and GPS mapping, to map and recover the remains. A feral pig trail transected various areas of the recovery site and corresponded with the distribution pattern of recovered skeletal material, including both the main concentration more broadly dispersed skeletal elements. While much of the skeleton was present, missing or unrecovered skeletal elements are consistent with expectations based on existing literature. Much of the postmortem bone deformations were characteristic of marks related to feral dog and/or feral pig scavenging. These results assisted local investigators in deciding the manner of death, as well as providing the family with an accounting of the decedent’s remains for burial. Thus, forensic anthropologists and archaeologists need to understand and develop knowledge of local animal behavior to recover and interpret human remains of medicolegal significance.