ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
Associate Professor in archaeological methods with emphasis on archaeological osteology at the University of Bergen, Norway - why I wouldn't mind at all! Pity they require applicants with a Ph.D...

Note to self, get working on your Ph.D. idea during the Easter holiday!
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
My plans for last Sunday went awry. My intentions were to go to the Natural History Museum, where their conservator Bethany Palumbo and Ben Garrod - of Secrets of bones fame - would put together a capybara skeleton, and then go next door to the Radcliffe Science library for some serious writing. Instead I got stuck at the capybara table, and ended up helping them getting the carpals and tarsals together. Very tricky as there wasn't any picture of which bones went where, so it was all trial and error on matching up the joint surfaces. We used whitetack (i.e. a white version of blu-tack) to keep the small bones together before they were getting set permanently with glue and/or wire. Unfortunately it's not as secure as glue since body heat makes it malleable, so as I was holding the tacked bones trying to find a matching piece, they kept twisting slightly apart - very irritating. There are just so many little bones in the wrist and ankle joints, so unless you know which bone goes where, it often hard to even tell if a bone is a carpal or a tarsal.

I was quite surprised by the capybara skeleton. Since it's the world's largest rodent, I had been wondering if it would look more like beaver (the largest rodent in Europe) - which admittedly lives more in water than capybaras do and therefore might have bones more adapted for that - or an unscaled rat? Instead, with the exception of the rodent like skull and shoulder blades, the bones remind me more of a pig!

Ben and Bethany didn't manage to fully assemble the capybara before the museum closed. Hopefully there will be a second event (The capybara strikes back? The wrath of the capybara?) so the museum will have a whole capybara skeleton on display.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
The observant ones among you may have noticed a lack of blogging carnival posts in February. The topic "general blogging about archaeology and blogging" didn't appeal to me, and I wasn't the only one. But now, it's the final blogging carnival post, and I'm not sitting out on that one.

The last question is where are you/we going with blogging or would you it like to go? I leave it up to you to choose between reflecting on you and your blog personally or all of archaeology blogging/bloggers or both. Tells us your goals for blogging. Or if you have none why that is? Tell us the direction that you hope blogging takes in archaeology.

I think blogging is a really good way to spread your knowledge far and wide, meet people who can give you clues to how artefacts work, and learn things from related fields. Find your soul mate(s), realise you're not the only weirdo out there (and if so many of us are weird, shouldn't that just be a sign that we're quite within the range of normal really?). Blogging is a bit of an odd beast: partly normal conversation, partly popular science writing. And it is a skill to find the balance, particularly if you usually tend to write more formally academic things. Too much jargon shuts others out, no jargon and you have to explain in long paragraphs instead of using a single word. I hope blogging will be a fully accepted way of sharing knowledge - too often much more status is put on academic articles than popular science writing, even if the latter probably will be more influential in the long run. After all, if the public don't find us useful and interesting, they won't raise an eyebrow if budgets towards humanities or museums get cut - perhaps even be the ones to suggest the cuts.

I hope I can find more time* to write longer posts, to inform my readers of things I've learnt, perhaps things that are practical knowledge (how do you lay out a skeleton quickly to see which bits you have?), interesting new books or articles, weird bones and gross pathologies. Is there anything in particular you'd like to know or see?


*: and everyone who knows me are laughing their faces off. I really have too many things** on my plate already....
**: of course there is no such thing as too many interesting things to do, although there is such a thing as too few hours in the day.
ossamenta: (Book store = shiny!)
I got the Oxbow 2014 bargain catalogue in the post the other day, and there are quite a few books that could be worth buying if you're interested in old bones and such. I have most myself (so I can't make use of the bargain price this time) and I really recommend them.

- Extinctions and Invasions: A Social History of British Fauna: Eight thousand years ago, when the sea cut Britain off from the rest of the Continent, the island's fauna was very different: most of the animals familiar to us today were not present, whilst others, now extinct, were abundant. Over the course of millennia humans have manipulated Britain's fauna. Certain species were brought to extinction and in their place new animals were introduced: some transported purposefully by invading populations, others sent as royal gifts from far off lands, whilst several species arrived as stowaways. The story of each is fascinating, telling of the changing and multi-layered relationship between humans and animals. Drawing on new research in the fields of archaeology, ecology and history, this book examines how human society, culture, diet, lifestyles and even whole landscapes were fundamentally shaped by the animal extinctions and introductions that occurred in Britain since the last Ice Age. (£7.95)
- Farmers, Monks and Aristocrats: The environmental archaeology of Anglo-Saxon Flixborough: The environmental archaeological evidence from the major estate centre at Flixborough (in particular the animal bone assemblage) provides a series of unique insights into Anglo-Saxon life in England during the 8th to 10th centuries. The research reveals detailed evidence for the local and regional environment, many aspects of the local and regional agricultural economy, changing resource exploitation strategies and the extent of possible trade and exchange networks. Bioarchaeological data from Flixborough have documented for the first time, in a detailed and systematic way, the significant shift in social and economic aspects of wider Anglo-Saxon life during the 9th century AD., and comment on the possible role of external factors such as the arrival of Scandinavians in the life and development of the settlement. (£9.95)
- Aspects of Anglo-Scandinavian York : The ten chapters in this book, each written by a specialist, place the Coppergate discoveries within the wider context of Viking Yorvik whilst demonstrating how far the study of Anglo-Scandinavian York has progressed in the last quarter century. Includes animal bones, plant remains, coinage, crafts, inscriptions, place- and streetnames etc. (£6.95)
- Excavations at Grimes Graves, Fascicule 4 : Subtitled 'Animals, environment and the Bronze Age economy' this volume describes the Bronze Age midden deposits found in Shaft X, and discusses and interprets the rich faunal deposits. (£4.95) If you've read an animal bone report that referenced Legge for cattle ageing, this is the book they were using.
- Safe Moor'd in Greenwich Tier: A Study of the Skeletons of Royal Navy Sailors and Marines excavated at the Royal Hospital Greenwich : Recent excavations in the cemetary revealed the burials of over a hundred Greenwich Pensioners, who had ended their long and colourful lives at the Hospital. These were sailors and mariners that sailed and fought in Britain's numerous wars of the 18th century. The hazards and physical demands of their lives are clearly reflected in their skeletons, with fractures, infections, amputations, joint disease and scurvy being common. Osteological findings are interpreted in the light of rich documentary sources on the social history of the lowerdeck of Nelson's Navy, and form an invaluable alternative data set in reconstructing the extraordinary lives of these 'picked and brine pickled survivors'. (£5) This is such a bargain!
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
Last weekend I went up really early* to go to Preston in Lancashire for the twice-yearly Professional Zooarchaeology Group meeting. Usually, at least for (northern) Europe, when we identify equid bones, we call them “horse”. This may not be entirely accurate, particularly for Roman and post-Roman periods, when donkeys and mules were also used for transport. Horses and donkey, not to mention mules, can be really tricky to identify correctly to species, so this equid meeting included a identificaton session at the end.

The talks ranged from early domestication to size increases to horse burials. Read more... )

*: seriously, England, why is it not possible to go north at a reasonable hour on a Saturday? I know you think the universe revolves around London, but seriously... I couldn't even get to Birmingham early enough to catch another train towards Preston. Going south to London was easy, and then the morning London-Glasgow train got me to Preston in time for the meeting.

The event was livetweeted at #pzg, for those of you who live for twitter.

Mood swing

Feb. 5th, 2014 09:30 pm
ossamenta: Close-up of Viking Age rune stone (Ashmolean runestone)
It's amazing how one single little email can tip the week from meh/crap into happy fun research mood. Bring on the weekend!
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
And now at least I'm in the right month. January's topic is Best post and why.

It’s hard for me to tell what my best (or worst for that matter) post is. Stats are tricky, as many will probably see my posts on Dreamwidth’s reading list or network (“friends of friends”) and thus escape individual clicks. And I don’t think any post of mine has spread far and wide on the rest of the internet.

My most useful post was probably Conference woes, which gave me lots of help on how to give a good talk. But the one I like best is my post on the quarry excavation: informative and with lots of pictures. I hope others think so too.

Anything you'd like to see more of?
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
And now December's topic: The good, the bad and the ugly

The good: The comments! People who say my post was interesting (don't we all want to hear that :-) ), or where the comments spark a conversation. I think comments are highly important, particularly for enabling of conversations. Sometimes I learn things from my readers, other times comments can make me realize I expressed myself less clearly than I thought, and I have then the opportunity to make the post clearer.

The bad: I guess general lack of comments/discussions would be my main thing. It takes a fair bit of time to write a post – not just the writing, but taking and editing photographs as well. But I know I rarely comment myself on blogs, so I assume my posts are read far more than what any comments would indicate. But at least Dreamwidth allows for discussions, as opposed to Tumblr. Twitter conversations are possible, but you have to keep them brief.

The ugly: Luckily I’ve never had any nasty experiences. Perhaps it’s because my blog is very low-profile. Once you reach a high enough number of readers, you tend to also get the assholes. (see BrainScoop etc etc)
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
Running a bit late for Doug’s Archaeology’s blogging carnival for the Society for American Archaeology’s annual conference, but here’s November’s entry.

November: Why blogging?
Some archaeology bloggers focus their blog on their research project, to share their latest research. Others are enthusiastic about archaeology in general, and want to tell the world about it. Ossamenta was a less idealistic project. There are so many archaeologists out there, even in my specialized field, and unfortunately, subconcious (or concious for that matter) preferences can make the difference in getting offered a project, an article or a job. Since I can’t afford to go to conferences regularly, I thought a blog would be a way to get my name out there. If no-one knows you exist, they can’t think of you when a cool project is in the making. It may never come to anything, but at least I’ve tried. And hopefully made people happy with my posts.

Blogging is work, no doubt about it. I have the utmost admiration for Katrin Kania and others, who have a post up every day. And sometimes, there aren’t anyting interesting to tell. Most sites and bones are “normal”, for want of better description, and with increased experience there is a risk that you look past things that beginners would think interesting and worth posting about.

But now that I have a computer again, I hope there will be more posts in the future. Once I get those two reports in before their deadline…
ossamenta: Text: Women and geeks first! Oh no wait that's all of us. (Women and geeks first)
So that was 2013. A good year, if rather unremarkable eventwise. The main drawback was a computer ready for retirement mid-autumn, causing me to be without computer and internet until Christmas. Still trying to get a feel for the new one. There has been quite a few changes in software, not all of them for the better. Hopefully some of those might improve with upgrades.

Work was dominated by two huge rural sites, one Iron Age/Roman and one Roman. I’ve finished recording one of them and the other is still ongoing. I’m waiting for the phasing – a problem with large sites: ideally I should only record securely dated contexts, but if I have to wait for the phasing to be done, I haven’t got enough time for recording or analysis before the deadline – and once the phasing is done I can start analysing one site and do the final recording of the other.

I didn’t go to any conferences, but to two PZG meetings (i.e. the Professional Zooarchaeology Group, an association of zooarchaeologists in the UK who meet twice a year to discuss methodologies, new research, case studies etc), one on identification of canids (dog/wolf/fox etc), felids (cat/wild cat/lynx etc) and mustelids (badger/otter/marten/mink/weasel/stoat etc), and one on pathologies. Very fun and useful!

As I was without computer for so long, I thought I would have lots of time for crafts in the autumn. Erm, not so much. Or at least not in the sense of having things finished. I did finish my crocheted shawl I had been working on for a while, and it’s lovely and huge and warm. That was my first crochet since I guess I was about eleven/twelve. The pattern was very easy and very forgiving with uneven gauge. Thoroughly recommended. The only drawback is that it makes a equalsided triangle, and I would have preferred one with a wider angle so you could tie the ends behind your back without having a shawl that went down to your knees. Of course this is possible, by using other stitches, but it’s not something I would like to improvise as a beginner.
I also did a couple of needlebooks, some shown here, but the others are not entirely finished. The embroidery is done, but I need to add the lining and do the closing straps. I like brick stitch embroidery. It’s quite fast once you get the pattern (usually after the first two repeats) and enough mindless that you can combine it with watching tv.
In contrast, I haven’t yet quite “got” Scanian woollen embroidery, perhaps because it’s a figures, rather than geometric repeats. I’m still working on my pin cushion, but it’s perhaps telling that I started a new brickstitch needlebook rather than kept going with the pin cushion. However, I love the look of Scanian woollen embroidery, and I will persevere!

I also tried a different craft this year: wood carving. It’s something I’ve long wanted to do, but there hasn’t been many opportunities for it. There are weekend and week courses, but they are usually held somewhere in the countryside, and without a car they can be difficult to get to. Plus you have to add accomodation and food to the cost. But Barn the Spoon in London does day-courses, and I managed to book myself for one. If having the choice, his week-long courses (evenings, not full days) are probably better, as there is more time to absorb things. The day-course was eight hours, and after six I felt my brain was saturated with new knowledge. However, it was great fun and I’m now a proud owner of one spatula and two spoons. Not the prettiest spoons: chunky and uneven in the carving, but not bad for an absolute beginner. I can see the shapes of really pretty spoons inside them! Actually, one of the spoons turned out to be an awesome baking spoon, perfect for making doughs.

I went to two big dancing events: the Oxford Lindy Exchange and the Cambridge Lindy Exchange. Both had good bands to dance to and lovely dancers to dance with, but I think I prefer the Oxford exchange. Mainly because a sunny summer event (picknicks!) is far nicer than a rainy late autumn event. The Cambridge treasure hunt was quite fun though. Maybe we should nick the idea?

So what else did I do in 2013? I didn’t go to any plays, only saw two films (Much ado about nothing and Hobbit 2), didn’t travel abroad (apart from home to visit family and friends), but I did go to several exhibitions and read a lot of books.

I did some calculations and found out that there were so many high-profile exhibitions at the British Museum that it would be profitable to shell out for a membership. They are rather expensive, but you get free entrance to all special exhibitions, no need to book tickets, just go past the queue and head in! Quite good when all weekend tickets have been booked already on two exhibitions you just have to see. And 10% off shop and café is not to be sneezed at either, even if that’s not the main draw. So I got to see Ice Age art, things from Pompeii, South American gold artefacts and Japanese porn. I also saw the 17th century Cheapside treasure hoard at the Museum of London and the Viking exhibition at the National Museum in Copenhagen. The latter will come to the British Museum in spring, and since my membership card will still be valid then, I’ll probably see it again. After all, it’s free.

As usual, I read lots of books. I was very lucky this year, as my favourite author trio: Jo Graham, Melissa Scott and Amy Griswold, all came out with books. What I really love about their writing is the solid sense of history. Admittedly I’m not an expert in any of the time periods they deal with, so there may be things other readers would raise their eyebrows for, but I can’t feel that the characters are spokespersons for modern people, as sometimes happens, or that period social norms are ignored for character convenience. Also, as one reviewer put it: “adult characters acting like god-damn adults!”
- The Emperor’s Agent is the second in Jo Graham’s series about Elza Versfelt (a.k.a. Ida St Elme), going from naive socialite in Directoriate France to Napoleon’s spymaster (think Judi Dench’s M). It’s based on Ida St Elme’s memoirs, but also connected to Graham’s other series, The Numinous World (Black ships, Hand of Isis, Stealing fire), which follows the reincarnated soul of a person, sometimes woman, sometimes man, always with an affinity to the divine (admittedly, far easier to be “god-touched” in ancient Egypt than in enlightment Paris…). Readers of both series will probably recognise characters from the ancient world popping up in their new bodies in 18/19th century France. This is not a strictly historical novel, perhaps more historical fantasy, as Graham uses reincarnation, gods and magical rituals to good effect.
- If I had been very lucky I would have got two books in 2013 from Jo Graham’s and Melissa Scott’s series The Order of the Air, about a avation team/members of a magical lodge in the late 1920s and 1930s. But due to marketing, only Steel Blues (#2) was published in 2013, and Silver Bullet (#3) is due early this year. This series is actually part of the Numinous World, although there is very little cross-over. Elza’s and Michel’s new incarnations have a brief interacting with the team in Steel Blues, but you wouldn’t need to read either series to enjoy the other one. Steel Blues is a great team adventure in the same style as the previous book in the series, dealing with a cross-continental aviation race, a stolen necklace with a curse on it, a Russian countess (alleged) and jewel thief (verified), and the unsolved murders of the New Orleans Axeman.
- Death by silver, by Melissa Scott and Amy Griswold, is a detective story/gay romance set in an AU Victorian England where magic not only exists, but is fully integrated in society. Magic (here: metaphysics) can for example be studied at university, there are reputable (and disreputable) dealers in enchanted objects, correspondence courses in magic suitable for housewifes etc. The story involves metaphysician Ned Mathey whose client was found murdered by an enchanted candlestick the day after Mathey had performed a curse-removing spell from all silverware in the house. Mathey brings in consulting detective Julian Lynes (an old schoolfriend and currently friends-with-benefits) in order to solve the mystery and clear his own reputation. Book two, A non-conforming death, is coming this year, and I’m really looking forward to meeting Mathey, Lynes and Mathey’s awesome secretary Miss Frost again.
- Another praised book was Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, which I expect to see shortlisted for the Tiptree award. In a far future world, where the Radch empire is expanding across space, one of its huge warship/AIs has found itself betrayed and almost entirely destroyed, its mind residing solely in a single ancillary (i.e. a human from a conquered world whose brain is entirely overwritten with the AI’s conciousness) soldier, rather than in the ship itself and in the hundreds of ancillaries it once was. And One Esk Nineteen is out for revenge, if she can get offworld and find the Radch emperor.
ossamenta: Picture of an owl from a Medieval manuscript (Medieval owl)
Do you fancy chickens and want to do a ph.d.? There are now _two_ funded ph.d.s at Bournemouth University as part of the Chicken Coop project:

- Analysis of material culture associated with the keeping and exploitation of chickens in Europe.

- Analysis of the effects of chickens on the environment in Europe and the effects of the environment on the chicken both when they first arrived and subsequently after they became established in different regions.


And for those of you who prefer to eat or pet chickens rather than research them, Jim Morris has just published a conference report from the Animal Paleopathology Working Group's conference in Stockholm a few months back. I really wanted to go, but the budget was a bit too tight for that. But with a good summary of the talks you get the good bits, and can see if there are any people whose research you need to keep an eye out for.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
Dear readers, due to a computer mishap, I'm reliant on the local library computers until Christmas/New Years. Consequently, posts will be rare, as uploading/editing photos can be a bit awkward. This sucks, but unfortunately finances won't allow for a new computer with no advance planning.

See you all in January!
ossamenta: Picture of an owl from a Medieval manuscript (Medieval owl)
I'm not quite sure if I had any particular plans for this Friday evening, but when my colleague came in with a robin that he had found dead outside (probably the first casualty of the windows of the new enviromental processing shed), I knew any plans would be cancelled. Skeletal preparation is not my favourite activity, but beggars can't be choosers, particularly if they aren't rich enough to buy their specimens, nor in possession of a garden to bury carcasses in.

This was the smallest animal I've prepped, and I can't say I'd love to do it again. Well, plucking the feathers was very quickly done, but as for the rest: fragile, tiny bones that I really didn't want to damage when I was removing flesh and guts. It's halfway done now: most of the meat on the limbs are gone, tendons remaining. The spine and the head are a pain in the neck to get clean (small and fragile) and the kidneys are fiddly to remove from the synsacrum. Hopefully an overnight soak will make it easier. I really don't want to spend too much of the weekend cleaning teeny tiny bones.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
Pathology is probably one of the more trickier parts of osteology. It's relatively easy to see that something is wrong on a bone, but to actually pinpoint it to a type of disease... Occasionally, you are lucky, but that's usually more to do with very particular pathologies from a particular type of disease. Often, the bony changes could have come from several kinds of diseases*. Sometimes it's not even a disease, just age related wear and tear. Of course it doesn't help that as opposed to human osteologists we usually only deal with single fragmented bones and not an entire body. Therefore I was very glad that I could go to the Professional Zooarchaeology Group's pathology themed meeting last month, to discuss these things with likeminded people.

*: Check veterinary medicine, I hear you say? Well, these days animals are often either treated or are put down before the disease progresses to stages where it affects the skeleton and not just the soft tissue. Consequently, veterinary medicine books are almost exclusively focussed on identification of disease from changes in soft tissue.

Read more... )
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
I've just come back from a long day at the PZG meeting in Leicester. The theme was pathology and it was really interesting. My brain is bubbling with interesting research projects, neat things to add to the recording database, things to help my colleagues with, a possible alternative ph.d. idea, and much much more. A more detailed post will follow, but for those who can't wait, head over to Jim Morris' twitter, where he live tweeted the meeting.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
Remember the mustelid bones I found a few weeks ago? They were either from pine marten or from polecat, but I didn't think it was possible to securely identify them from the shapes of the bones themselves.

So I asked a colleague at English Heritage - they have a huge reference collection of all kinds of animals - and she took some measurements from pine marten and polecat bones, and it turned out that my mustelid mostly matched pine martens! *does happy dance of rare species identification*

 photo SLGMpinemartenmeascomp_zps85714e85.png
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
Last Friday was Day of Archaeology 2013. And I didn't post a thing. Well, to be fair, it would have been a very unrepresentative day, since I took half the day off to show some visiting friends Oxford. Perhaps I'll do something for next year.

But I have something fun to show you. Among the bones from a small, fairly "normal"/boring evaluation there was a very fragmented horse skull with two deformed teeth. One had a large hole in the occlusal surface - that's the chewing surface - and a large groove on the side. They may be connected. There is still soil deep in the hole and in the groove that I haven't been able to remove. I guess if I soaked the tooth it would be possible, but I don't want to risk any flaking from long immersion. The other tooth also has a large groove on two sides.

 photo P1050324_zpsa029fdaf.jpg  photo P1050317_zpsda0b1194.jpg
Lingual (tongue-side) and side view

 photo P1050318_zpsf1b79051.jpg  photo P1050321_zps9cc53901.jpg
Buccal (lip-side) and occlusal view

I think that I might be dealing with caries in the occlusal surface that went deep and caused an infection in the root. The infection went outward and into the gum, from which it went into the neighbouring tooth. But I have never seen such deformation before, and occlusal caries in human teeth - admittedly far smaller than horse teeth - usually break the crown from within without any other changes in the enamel surface.

I think I need to bring the teeth to the next PZG meeting, as it's a pathology-themed meeting. Hopefully someone there will recognise this.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
I took a bag of bones and tipped them out. Thought "Wait a second…" and promptly put one bone aside. The rest went into a new bag, neatly labelled and put in the "someone else’s problem"-box.

Romans… *shakes head* Always burying people all over the place.

Well, to be fair, it’s something the people in the Iron Age also did. And then pits and ditches were dug into old pits and/or ditches - sometimes so old you wouldn’t know they even were there - and what was originally in them got mixed with new waste and soil.


animal and human bones
From left: cattle metacarpal, very fragmented human pelvis and the shaft of a human humerus.


As an aside, this is why it's very useful to study both human and animal bones, even if you only want to work in zooarchaeology. Disarticulated human bones are rather common on rural sites, and they are not always so complete that they are easily recognised.
ossamenta: Scientist clones dinosaur for T-rex steaks (Science)
I have to take a break from the big rural Roman site, since there are a few smaller sites with urgent deadlines that have to go first. In one way, it's nice to have a bit of a break, think about other time periods and regions, having to write and not just record. But on the other hand it would be nice just to get on with it, and finish one site before starting another. But that's commercial archaeology for you.


I was linked to this, and found Trowelblazers - a site about female archaeologists at the beginning of the 20th century.
"Why hadn't I heard of these women? Not the individual names -- I can barely name any male archaeologists from that period -- but the idea of these women, working in such numbers and even leading their fields. It was as though we'd blithely wiped them all from our popular imaginations, and thus allowed each woman to be easily dismissed [...] as an exception-to-the-masculine- rule.

Martin Rundqvist posted about a really interesting site dug by our colleagues in Salisbury: 800 years of human sacrifice in Kent. Isotope analyses show that some of the dead people grew up in Scandinavia, some in the Mediterranean, and some were local. The researchers think that the sacrificed people could have been slaves, raided from various places in Europe, ending up in Kent. Perhaps the people with local isotope signatures were children of slaves who originally came from elsewhere?

Katy Meyers at Bones don't lie posted about another isotope project. This time it's an Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Bamburgh, in northern England, where they found a great variation of isotope signatures among the population. The researchers argue that this settlement may have been connected to a religious community, where people could have come from all over Christian Europe for pilgrimage or for settling into the community.

The ultimate memento mori, a great idea for Halloween, or just plain fun for the bone mad among us? A Dutch artist 3D prints his own skeleton. I can see so many possibilities with this :-) .
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
The most common species on almost all archaeological sites in Britain since the Neolithic are cattle, sheep/goat and pig. Somewhat less common animals are horse - much more common in the countryside than in towns - dog, cat, chicken and red/fallow deer. I guess you can all see the trend: almost all animal bones on archaeological sites are from domestic animals. The exception are high-status sites, which usually contain more wild animals. Admittedly wild animals are still in a minority in those, but it’s a larger minority than in your average urban and rural sites.

But what has all this to do with my very ordinary Roman rural site? As with most sites, the budget is a bit smaller than what I would like, so I can’t record and analyse every bone from the site. For this site I concentrate on the early/middle Roman phase and only record ”valuable” features from the late Roman phase. Valuable here usually means large pit or ditch deposits and smaller features that contain bones that can be used for analysing slaughter age patterns, sex ratios, pathologies etc. This means I look at every bag to see if the context is valuable or not. The few bones from pit 4531 were not supposed to be recorded, but when I spotted the cat bones I knew I had to included them. Cats are quite rare on Roman sites, and it was the first such find so far.

 photo GM_Mustelidbones_450px_zps514630db.jpg
Right and left femur, fibula, tibia and humerus, probably from the same animal.

But then, when I looked the bones properly, they didn’t seem quite right. The supracondylar foramen on the humerus is almost exclusively found in cats and mustelids (in Europe at least, other continents may have other species that has it as well), so that limited my options. I compared the bone to a pine marten and a cat, and lo and behold: it’s a medium-sized mustelid, probably pine marten or polecat! (stone marten is not found in the UK, so I don’t have to worry about a third species). Bones from fur animals are very rare in archaeological assemblages, so this was very exciting.

 photo GM_Mustelidfemurcomp_zpse0374f67.jpg
Femurs from pine marten, unknown mustelid and large tomcat.


 photo GM_Mustelidhumeruscomp_zps0d9f17d4.jpg
Humeri from pine marten, unknown mustelid and large tomcat.


 photo GM_Mustelidfemcomp_zpsca82872e.jpg
Close-up of the upper part of the femur. Note that the trochanter minor (the little lump at the start of the shaft) is a lump on the cat but a pinch on the two mustelids.


 photo GM_Musteliddisthumcomp_zpsb06e5f0a.jpg
Close-up of the lower part of the humerus. Note that the bony bridge enclosing the supracondylar foramen is differently shaped in the cat and in the mustelids. The ridge on the opposite side is also different.


Identifying mustelids can be difficult. There are a few distinct markers on the skull, but the rest of the skeleton can be quite similar. That said, badgers, otters and wolverines can be quite distinct. It’s the other ones you have to worry about. You can group them by size, pine marten, beech marten and polecat/ferret being the medium sized group and weasel and stoat being the small sized group. But there is considerable overlap within those groups, both between males and females and between the species. Weasels in particular are notorious. They vary so much geographically that you have to make certain your reference specimen comes from the same region as your archaeological bones. For example: a male weasel from northern Sweden can be 17-23cm long, and a male weasel from the Mediterranean can be 26-38cm long. Now if you add females into this, the ones from northern Sweden can be 17-19cm long and the ones from the Mediterranean 23-29cm. Weasels from Britain and central Europe are somewhere in between.

In order to try to identify the mustelid to species, I will probably have to go to English Heritage in Portsmouth and have a look at their reference collection. Hopefully they won’t overlap too badly. I can also contact other zooarchaeologists and see if they have any measurements from Roman pine martens or polecats. Wish me luck. I think I will need it.

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ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
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April 2014

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