As part of an EU funded project to investigate the factors influencing bone preservation in the archaeological record, more than 250 bones from 41 archaeological sites in five countries spanning four climatic regions were studied for diagenetic alteration. Sites were selected to cover a range of environmental conditions and archaeological contexts. Microscopic and physical (mercury intrusion porosimetry) analyses of these bones revealed that the majority (68%) had suffered microbial attack. Furthermore, significant differences were found between animal and human bone in both the state of preservation and the type of microbial attack present. These differences in preservation might result from differences in early taphonomy of the bones. © 2003 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.