Identification of dermestid beetle modification on Neolithic Maltese human bone

implications for funerary practices at the Xemxija Tombs

Jess E. Thompson, Daniel Martín-Vega, Laura T. Buck, Ronika K. Power, Simon Stoddart, Caroline Malone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Taphonomic modifications to Neolithic human skeletal remains from six rock-cut tombs in Malta has provided key information about funerary practices and the local environment. Application of microscopic analysis, computed tomography (CT) scanning, and 3D imaging of the modifications has allowed their comparison with similar examples in modern and archaeological skeletal material. The modifications are interpreted as pupal chambers and feeding damage by dermestid beetles. Based on observation of the behaviour and ecology of dermestid beetles, we suggest several scenarios for funerary practices at the Xemxija tombs which nuance our current understanding of collective burial during the late Neolithic in Malta.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)123-131
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science: Reports
Publication statusPublished - 2018



  • Archaeoentomology
  • Dermestid beetles
  • Funerary practices
  • Human bones
  • Neolithic
  • Taphonomy
  • Malta

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