New paper published in Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports

This paper has just been published:

Lidour, K. and M.J. Beech. 2020. The diet of osprey Pandion haliaetus on Marawah Island (Abu Dhabi Emirate, United Arab Emirates) and its implications for the study of archaeological assemblages. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports Volume 33, October 2020, 102532.


  • Ospreys are reported to build nests and to perch on archaeological sites.
  • The impact of ospreys on archaeological fish bone assemblages is assessed.
  • Almost 2000 modern prey remains have been collected close to osprey’s perches.
  • The taphonomic signature of the osprey has been described.
  • Ospreys are not accumulation agents at archaeological sites on Marawah Island.


The Osprey Pandion haliaetus is one of the most widely distributed raptor species in the world, present on all continents except Antarctica. Since its diet is mainly based on fish, this raptor is typically encountered close both to marine and fresh waters. Ospreys are well represented in the Arabian Peninsula where remote islands are the location for some of their key breeding sites. On Marawah Island (Emirate of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates), ospreys have been reported to build nests on top of abandoned man-made structures, including archaeological sites. The discovery of fish remains associated with numerous bird bones and eggshell fragments in archaeological deposits raises the question of the potential contamination of ancient faunal accumulations by birds of prey. To date, the possible impact of ospreys on zooarchaeological assemblages has been little considered and the taphonomic signature of this fish-eating raptor has never been described. However, ospreys are effective competitors to traditional and small-scale fisheries and should be considered as potential accumulators of fish remains on archaeological sites located close to water bodies. Indeed, zooarchaeological analyses demonstrate that fish had always played a major role in the daily subsistence of the ancient inhabitants of Marawah Island since the first traces of occupation dating back some 8000 years. The present study will enable researchers working in the region as well as in other geographical area to determine if ospreys are accumulation agents for fish remains on archaeological sites.

The present diet assessment of ospreys allows us to specify the taphonomic signature of this raptor: targeted species are mainly medium to large-sized fish swimming just beneath the surface (e.g. needlefish and queenfish) and slow benthic fish occurring in shallow waters such as tripodfish, emperors, and groupers. Bone accumulations are almost entirely composed of skull elements, indicating specific discarding behaviours. Certain traces left on jaw bones, in particular maxillae, can also help to differentiate osprey accumulations from archaeological ones.