Food for Thought

Subsistence will always be an integral part of the human condition. This underscores the importance of faunal, animal bone, remains in understanding the past. Historical archaeologists incorporate animal bones in order to understand what humans ate, their social identity, based on cuts of meats, religious affiliations, such as constraints on pig consumption, whether they domesticated animals, how they managed their resources, and so on and so forth.

Wye House bird bones

Wye House Unit 80 bird bones. Source: Ian Guillermo

After sifting screening through the dirt from countless of buckets ,your eye catches a glimpse of this yellowish, spongy artifact that when held is light. You then get excited because you found a bone!, seriously am I the only one? and for the prospect of analyzing what you found back in the lab. In Unit 80 Level F, I found several small bird vertebras while slowly screening the dirt, to the dismay of my fellow group members- I am looking at you Angie! So you may ask, what happens to the bone after it is bagged and checked in? The bones will go through a process of dry cleaning since at this point the bones are weathered and porous. Afterwards it will be placed in the drying rack along with other artifacts in this provenience and then subsequently re-bagged. It would then be sent to the lab!

In the zooarchaeology lab, each person gets a bag of bones that they need to label. First you need a specimen number that will be added to the provenience (18TA314.51.C.0001 = site number + unit number + level/feature + specimen number). You only do this when labeling. You then add a coat of B72 resin unto the bone to write the provenience on. After it is dry we then move to the actual paperwork.

Example of paperwork

Example of paperwork. Source: Ian Guillermo

Some of the column headings that need to be filled out are as follows:

SpecNum –> The given specimen number

Provinience –> site number + unit number + level/feature

Taxon –> What animal it is in Latin (For example Sus scrofa for pig). If you are unsure which animal this bone came from, you can check the provided type collection.

Size –> The size of the element, let us say a humerus, relative to the standard size of the animal ( 1 for small, 2 for medium and 3 for large)

Confidence –> Your confidence in identifying the taxa (High = you are very sure , Medium = you are somewhat sure, Low = you don’t know what you are doing, Check = you give up and ask the teacher for help)

Bone –> Which element you have (distal humerus, proximal radius, etc.)

Sex –> Male or Female (Sexual dimorphism)

Pathology –> If the bone exhibits abnormalities or diseases (Root etching can also cause this phenomenon so one should be careful)

Side –> Which side of the bone it is

Fusions –> if the distal or proximal end of the bone is fused, semi-fused or unfused (this could tell us about the age of the animal when it was killed)

Skeletal landmarks –> Particular spots on the bone that differentiate it from other bones ( such as the spinous process from a lumbar vertebrae)

Overall Fragmentation –> If the fragmentation occurred pre-depositional, before it was buried, post-depositional, after it was buried or modern (Pre-depositional marks on the bone is very important for zooarchaeologists since this mark can be correlated to human activity)

Color –> The color of the bone

Weathering –> If the bone has underwent weathering

Surface modifications –> If there is any instances of gnawing, cut marks, scrape marks, etc.

Amanda Tang's mobile type collection

Amanda Tang’s mobile type collection. Source: Ian Guillermo

After finishing this paperwork you would then write up a paper interpreting the bones that you have just analyzed. What type of bones do you have? What is the relative frequency of the taxa (NISP)? Are they killing young animals versus adult ones? What types of surface modifications are present in your bones? What does this tell you about consumption and social hierarchy of the people eating the meat? etc. I am interested in finding out why there were several bird vertebra bones in Unit 80 Level F. Did they consume the bird? Did they used it for egg collection? Or was it a pet? These questions and more can only be answered once these bones have undergone faunal analysis.


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