ossamenta: Medieval manuscript showing a man trimming the thickness of a hide with a knife (Pergamenter)
I've had so much to tell, but been too busy to sit down and actually post.

In April, I was given a grant to continue and finalize my sheep sexing study. The trip to Historic England's skeleton reference collection would merit a post on its own, and that was indeed the plan. But, life happened. To cut a long story short, all sheep pelves from the Medieval Wool Project has been recorded and while I still need to properly analyse the results, there seem to be a pattern in sex-related morphology. I should be able to show ways of identifying castrated sheep, provided I can clearly explain morphological changes in a 3D object in words and pictures. Somehow a video might be easier, but that's not so easy to publish in journals.

As long-time readers of this blog know, I've been trying to get a PhD for several years now. The application to an osteology PhD at Uppsala University this January got me to the interview stage, but they chose someone else in the end. But I'm not been one to give up easily, so I kept an eye out for other options and kept applying. And finally, Lund University liked my research proposal and offered me a PhD position! So for the next four years I will bury myself in parchment production (look - new icon!), literacy, medieval animal husbandry strategies, craft organization etc. It will be so much fun!

It's already July, and my deadline clock is ticking. I'm moving at the end of the month, so I have to pack everything - and after eleven years working here, I have a lot of articles and books. Knowledge is a light burden, books and articles less so. I will miss Oxford and my colleagues so much. It's been really fun working here, with such a variety of projects, both in time period and site type. And despite my best intentions earlier, I will unfortunately miss both the IMC in Leeds and the EAA conference in Vilnius; there is simply not enough money or time right now.

But it's a beautiful sunny Sunday out there, and I should go out and enjoy the day. Perhaps the new exhibition at the Ashmolean, or tea and cake at a café?
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
Where has the month gone? It's already April, and over here in Oxford we've had a brilliant sunny spring Saturday. I went out for a walk to the town centre and back, stopping at the Town Hall for the popup exhibition which shows our finds from the huge Westgate excavation. I can't wait to get hold of the animal bones: it's not everyday you get the opportunity to do research on a medieval Fransiscan friary!

At the moment I'm working on a completely different site: a multi period rural site, ranging from the Neolithic to the Anglo-Saxon period. So far nothing stands out in particular. Perhaps once the numbers have been properly crunched I might be able to see some chronological changes in animal husbandry.
But one find stood out when I saw it: a bone tool made from a sheep metacarpal. I've seen such bones before - there were several from the East Kent Access Project as well as a small number from other Iron Age and Roman sites in Oxfordshire. Despite being relatively common, we don’t know what their function were. It has been suggested that they are textile tools and that the grooves comes from wear from yarn, but I’m not certain about that: can repeated use of yarn really wear such a small number of distinct grooves? I would instead expect general wear and tear all along the shaft, or a larger V- or U-shaped groove in one or both ends of the shaft.

What do you think, dear readers: have you any ideas what these bones were used for?

 photo Thame_THF15_ant_zpstn2bhxlh.jpg

 photo Thame_THF15_med_zpsi4orw4tl.jpg

As an aside: Ideally one shouldn't write the identification code so prominently if the item may be photographed later, but this was a joint project, and the other company did the washing and marking of the finds (so I can't just walk across the office and tell them off). Mostly these things happen when the person marking is not experienced in spotting the important details of the object, such as writing over the pathology on an animal bone, or - my favourite - across the decoration of a bone mount! I'd like to say our people are better taught, but these things can happen in the best of places, particularly if people are tired and/or inattentive. But it's no disaster: if the metacarpal will be photographed for publication they'll just have to scrape the ink off.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
The Oxford university library is good, but it doesn't have everything I need for my reports and for my research. Luckily on Copac you can search for books and journals in several university and institute libraries all over UK and Ireland. So this week I took a trip to London, to the Natural History Museum's library. Normally, say if I need a book at the British Library, I'd go on a Saturday, so I can combine work with meeting up with friends, but the NHM (and many other libraries) is only open weekdays... On the other hand, it was quite nice to be able to walk straight in, no queues and no hordes of screaming small children all over the place.

I did go for a wander around the museum afterwards, seeing the stone pillars with carved fish in the minerals section (I assume that's where the old fish collection was), and one of the Tower lions in the treasures room. I had seen that skull before, when it was included in the royal manuscripts exhibition at the British Library a few years back. I even bought a little badge with it as a souvenir (which is how I could see it was the same skull).

I also nipped in to the Victoria and Albert Museum across the street, to see the Europe 1600-1815 galleries that had been closed for a long time. There were lots of very pretty things (as you would expect from the V&A). I think my favourite was this glass goblet: a trick goblet, where you have to know exactly how to drink in order to not pour the wine all over yourself.

A little tip: if you're going to visit either museum (or, for that matter the neighbouring Science Museum) on a weekday, go on Tuesdays. That's when they have a farmers' market on Queen's Lawn (off Imperial College Road) and because it's in the middle of the university, around lunch hour, there was one man selling bread, one man selling vegetables, and about fifteen stalls selling hot food and about five stalls selling cake. Lots of queues to all food stalls so I was pretty certain that whatever I chose would be tasty.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
Thanks to the joys of Twitter, I've just read about the discovery of a new Mesolithic burial site in Germany. The Mesolithic, i.e. Stone Age hunter-gatherers for readers not acquainted with European archaeological terminology, was my first favourite time period together with the Viking Age. Since moving abroad I've have had very little opportunity for anything Mesolithic - it seems to only exist as the odd flint scatter over here and not as the bone and flint rich settlement sites we had in southern Sweden.

The burial site is on a small hill near Gross Fredenwalde, Brandenburg, and contains the skeletons of nine individuals, among those a 6 months old baby - the youngest complete skeleton from this time period in Germany. One man had been buried upright in a pit, and radiocarbon dates showed that he had died several centuries after the others, suggesting that the burial site would have had some sort of significance for the later inhabitants.

Only part of the site has been excavated and I wonder if this is an isolated cemetery site or if there was a settlement attached to it, like the Skateholm site in Sweden? I guess only extended excavations will tell.

And now for the links, because you didn't come here just to get my brief summary:
- Quartär - the "proper" archaeological article, with more information than you can shake a stick at. (pdf, in English)
- National Geographic - if you want a brief report that still gives you plenty of information.
- RBB - German article, with video.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
Today has been a day of cold. After a short break, it seems as if the English winter is back, and while the temperature is on the right side of minus, the windchill probably drove it down below. I've been slightly chilled the whole day, from the office to the library to the café, so right now I'm bundled up in bed and intend to stay there until tomorrow morning.

But apart from that it's been a good day. I'm writing up a report on a big Iron Age and Roman site which will keep me busy for several more days and I had a meeting with Angela about the course on animal bones and zooarchaeology at the Natural History Museum that I will be part of. So this weekend I will have to sit down and write the case study I'll be presenting at the course. I have a feeling that the majority of the time will be spent on either hunting up cool photos or making graphs...
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
- If you are a student who wants to go to the Association for Environmental Archaeology's spring conference in Orkney (combineable with the spring PZG meeting and archaeomalacology working group meeting), but are short of cash, the Scottish Archaeological Research Framework (ScARF) is offering seven bursaries (deadline 15 February).

- The deadline for Association for Environmental Archaeology's research grant is the 31st January. If you're like me, a member of the AEA and planning to do some environmental archaeology related research in 2016, don't forget to apply!

- There is a fully funded PhD on offer at York University, on Mesolithic bone tools and peptide mass fingerprinting for species identification (deadline 11 February). Post-MA me (2000-2001 or so) would have gone for it immediately, but I've not done anything Mesolithic in ages. Well, not since writing my MA dissertation. The project sounds really cool though! Best of luck to whoever gets it.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
I looked at last year's End of the Year review, and had a bit of deja vu. This has been another Christmas spent writing PhD applications. Hopefully I'll have better luck with these ones.

Otherwise, 2015 has been quite a good year for me. Workwise I've been occupied with one Roman semi-urban site with a huge bone working deposit and one Iron Age - Roman rural site with lots of Iron Age ritual deposits, i.e. weird semi-articulated or whole animal burials often in pits. All the recording has been done for the last one, and in January I'll write the report. I'd like to find time to write an article on the bone working deposit - they are not that common from Roman sites, and this one is quite odd compared to other published ones.

I went to the PZG meeting in August, where we discussed interesting new research and methods of dog/fox/wolf identification. Then in the beginning of September I went to Glasgow for the EAA conference and had a great time! It was followed up with a short holiday in Edinburgh (it's only an hour away from Glasgow, so whyever not?). I apologise for not having written up the conference report yet. I tried to do some tweeting, but I fear this tweet summarizes my conference-tweeting experience. On the other hand, I like twitter as a snapshot commentary and I will definitely keep using it. On the third hand, I'm enough old-school not to have notification of incoming tweets/emails, so it's more an intermittent use than ongoing tweeting for me.

Research-wise, I did some recording of sheep pelves for a sheep sexing study, but I've realised that I need more data (of course...) so my research continues next year. I'm also looking forward to doing the assessment (i.e. preliminary recording and analysis of potential in a bone assemblage) for an Oxford college kitchen assemblage.
ossamenta: A flock of sheep from a medieval manuscript (Sheep)
My plan for a quiet December, with time to finish some sewing and crafting projects before Christmas, has been totally smashed. Last Friday, I found out that Uppsala University in Sweden has announced one fully funded Ph.D. position in archaeology (in Uppsala) and one in osteology (in their Gotland campus). Both have deadlines in the beginning of January, so that's me writing and thinking proposals all December. I'm very tempted to head off to the library today to check out a book that sounds very useful, but it's supposed to be gale force winds and heavy rain in an hour or so according to the forecast, so it would be better to postpone the library visit until Monday or Tuesday evening.

I'm a tad bit concerned about the osteology Ph.D., though. I've studied at the Gotland campus one term during my undergraduate years, and while the town (Visby) is lovely, and I'd love to live there again, it is also a bit remote. Will there be enough relevant books in the university library, or do I have to fly to Stockholm or Uppsala on a regular basis to be able to do my research? Because that will eat up a fair bit of the grant. Well, I'll phone the university next week and ask a lot of questions, so there's no need to worry too much today. Perhaps I will dedicate this day to sewing and crafting and have a proper relaxing Sunday.
ossamenta: A flock of sheep from a medieval manuscript (Sheep)
In the current bone assemblage I'm recording I came across a sheep burial (probably remains from a feast - deposited in a pit right at the entrance to a big enclosure and with chop marks on the ribs) that made me raise both my eyebrows in a 'you got to be kidding me'- way.

The pelvis looked like the castrated sheep in English Heritage's collection, but the horn cores looked like typical ram horn cores... I'm working on the theory that this is a relatively late* castrated sheep, and that pelvis shape will override horn core shape in the complicated way hormones can shape the body. Definitely a case of more information needed, damnit! I can see myself trying to get hold of records of other sheep burials just to build up a dataset. This would be particularly relevant if late castration will have a difference in how horn cores and pelves develop.

It's unfortunate that most animal bone assemblages come from food and butchery waste, where the bones are only individual fragments, entirely disassociated with the animal they came from. Such a difference from research on human remains, where we (mostly) deal with the entire person and can see how diseases/traumas could affect the whole body, not just single body parts.


*: The flocks from EH's collection had to follow modern day animal welfare regulations, which state that castration of livestock must occur within the first few days after birth.
ossamenta: A flock of sheep from a medieval manuscript (Sheep)
I've recorded three quarters of the Medieval Wool Project sheep skeletons at Historic England, and could probably do the rest in a day. But after recording a small assemblage from an archaeological site I think I might have to revise my methodology, i.e. split one trait into two. Which would, of course add a fair bit of time to my remaining recording time. Not to mention being a general pain in the neck.

I just want to get this thing done, so I can concentrate on organising with a museum to have a look at a couple of assemblages to use my method on. Admittedly, first the method must be tested, but that's for other people (so not to risk bias - is the written up method clear and concise for its purpose, and does the sexed traits in one sheep population match those of another population?).
ossamenta: (Book store = shiny!)
Spotted on the New Book Display shelves in the fabulous* Sackler library in Oxford (dealing with archaeology, classics and art history):

Gitte Hansen, Steven P. Ashby and Irene Baug (eds) (2015) Everyday products in the Middle Ages. Crafts, consumption and the individual in northern Europe c. AD 800-1600. Oxbow Books.

I’ve heard about this book for a while now, but was waiting to see it in the flesh, as it were, before deciding to buy or not. And it seems like a highly useful book if you are interested in basic consumer goods, its production, the craftspeople and the consumers in Medieval northern Europe.

The list of contents is up at the publisher, and it has quite a variety in its topics, from general articles on craftspeople, to pottery and glass imports, leather working, bone and antler working, textiles, stone working, iron production and blacksmithing.


*: not because it’s particularly fancy – it’s not – but because they have so much useful and interesting stuff.
ossamenta: Medieval glass painting of St James (York, UK) (St Jakob (York))
I'm all brained out after the conference. Expect an update-post sometime after next week or so, when I'm back on track again. In short, it was great. Heard lots of interesting talks, met lots of interesting people and managed to do some sightseeing as well. Now I'm in Edinburgh on a post-conference mini-holiday and have spent some hours wandering around Old Town. The amount of souvenir shops and tartan tat is amazing in a scary way. I can't believe how all those shops can make enough profit to survive (admittedly the mark-up must be huge, the tourists are many, but there is so much competition).
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
It's the end of the first conference day and I'm knackered. Talks from 8am to 6pm - I filled nine A4 pages in my notebook. But it was interesting talks, on topics as shattered as scientific analyses of Roman eggshells, written records on 14th century sheep houses, and medieval urban waste managements. And then there was a party afterwards in the greenhouses in the botanical gardens. I was too busy taking notes to tweet someting - hope you weren't too disappointed. Tomorrow will be a bit easier: the talks only lasts until half past three. Hopefully I can find some time to see the Hunterian museum.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
Soon I'm off very early to bed, since I need to get up very early (way before sunrise) and start my travels to the EAA conference in Glasgow. I hope I can get some sleep on the way there...

I also hope to start on my almost brand new twitter account. We'll see how it goes. It probably won't be live tweeting, since I will be too busy taking notes.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
This was the 10th anniversary of the Professional Zooarchaeology Group, and it was held in Fort Cumberland, a 18th century fort in Portsmouth where (parts of) Historic England have their offices. There were lots of good talks, celebratory cake and wine, a guided tour of the fort, and a very interesting workshop on identifying dogs from wolves and foxes, as well as sexing dogs.

cut for serious length )
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
I spent the entire day washing buckets and my fingernails are not happy (the gloves are not tight around the wrist, so water seep in from the hose spray).

Small bones and charred seeds etc are usually recovered via soil samples, and it's the environmental department that deals with processing these and washing the buckets to send them out to the next site. Normally there's no problem with keeping up with demand, but when all sites (or what felt like all) call for 20 or 40 buckets each for the end of the week we suddenly found ourselves with 180 buckets to wash. Unfortunately that coincided with a large move of samples between offices: 2000 buckets from us to Cambridge, and that was a full-time job for all environmentalists*. Since I didn't have any urgent deadlines, I was asked to wash as many buckets as I could.

I washed 120, and at the end of the day my colleague came and asked if I wanted the bad or the good news first. One site put in an order for 160 buckets... On the plus side, the deadline is not until Monday and I don't have to wash all of them.


*: As a bone specialist I'm sort of between finds (handcollected bones) and enviro (sieved bones), although in the office administration I fall under enviro. So, technically part of the environmental department, although in reality a bit to the side from the soil processing part of it.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
It's been a lovely but very busy weekend. It was the 10th anniversary of the Professional Zooarchaeology Group, and in honour of that the meeting stretched across the whole weekend, and not just the Saturday. It was held in Fort Cumberland, the listed 18th century fort on the outskirts of Portsmouth, where Historic England, the research part of English Heritage, is. The topics for the meeting were Roman zooarchaeology and dogs. We were also treated to a guided tour of the fort (more interesting than I had assumed - if you get a chance, don't miss it). After the meeting, we had dinner together at a fish restaurant at the seafront and on Sunday we had an excursion to Portchester Castle (probably the only medieval castle that was built within a Roman fort (and still has the Roman walls standing!) and Fishbourne Roman palace.

And now I have to deal with the aftermath of the meeting: contact the people I need to contact about various things, decipher my notes and re-write them, and do an Ossamenta post about the talks. My handwriting is not the tidiest, but when I write really fast, trying to keep up with a speaker, letters can be lost, transposed or only the mere rudimentaries of them gets put to paper. Luckily I at least know the context of the talk.


 photo P1060715_zpskvz60l1b.jpg
It says "variability within towns". Obvious, right?
ossamenta: Text only: That would be an ecumenical matter (Ecumenical matter)
Forgot these ones:

- Recently retired Professor of Archaeology at York and well-known zooarchaeologist Terry O'Connor posted useful advice for newbie zooarchaeologists. Read it well: there is much truth in it.

- Some supercool Danish finds include a deposit of c.2000 small gold spirals dated to the Bronze Age. They think the spirals were possibly part of clothing decoration. (Danish article)
And last year they found 5000 year old foot prints as they were excavating for the Femern Belt tunnel.

- Bone assemblages that probably represent waste from feasts are found now and again in archaeology. Organising elaborate feasts was not only a way to display wealth (you could afford to slaughter this many animals) but also to bring a community together. An unusual feasting assemblage has been found in Llanmaes, an Iron Age site in Wales. About 80% of all bones from livestock came from pig – in itself unusual – but most of the pig bones came from the right fore limb. Such patterns are very unusual, and the archaeologists think that the bones represent joints that were brought to a communal feast where each participant brought an equal (literally) share of the food.
ossamenta: Scientist clones dinosaur for T-rex steaks (Science)
There's so many things going on in my life now that I've been neglecting this blog a bit, and in particular letting the interesting links build up. I hope I can get rid of a fair few in this post.

- Author Nicola Griffith wrote an interesting post about elves, gender, Anglo-Saxon medical practice and how this was changed by Christianization.

- Another author (and historian), Kari Sperring did an half-hour talk at Exilicon on the real history of the three musketeers (video)

- A newly discovered velociraptor ancestor with feathers.

- In line with strange and mysterious ritual stuff, an Iron Age site in Dorset produced composite animals deposited in pits: A cow with horse legs, a sheep with an extra head at its bum etc. It will be very interesting to read the subsequent research and see what they can find out about Iron Age beliefs.

- Isotope research have revealed some very interesting things over the years, often upending our previous beliefs and assumptions. The newest thing that's come to my knowledge is a study of the famous Egtved girl in Denmark. She's one of the Bronze Age oak coffin burials that were excavated in the late 19th and early 20th century, where circumstances had managed preservation of organic remains, and they are subsequently our main source for Scandinavian Bronze Age clothing. Researchers took isotope samples from her teeth, hair, nails as well as from her clothing and found out that she wasn't Danish at all! (nor was her clothing) The isotope signatures point elsewhere, possibly what's now southeastern Germany (the geology is consistent with this, but more importantly (as this type of geology is found elsewhere) the archaeological record indicates a relationship between Denmark and this area during the Bronze Age). Correlating hair growth rate and several samples along one strand of hair, they also found that she had been going back and forth between Denmark and the other region (probably NW Germany) during her last two years in life. (A more detailed article in Danish)

- Of course, sometimes science makes things more boring. A DNA analysis of the hair tufts and hair cords found on the Norse settlement The Farm Beneath the Sand on Greenland changed the species identification from bear, bison and muskox (signifying trade with North America) to horse and goat (not signifying trade with North America).

- Neanderthal bone flutes were apparently made by hyenas, not Neanderthals.

- There's a new theory on why the wooly mammoth became extinct: osteoporosis may have "helped".

- The Paston Letters is one of the largest archives of 15th-century English private correspondence, comprising about 1000 letters and documents including petitions, leases, wills and even shopping lists. They offer a unique glimpse into the personal lives of three generations of the Paston family from Norfolk over a period of 70 years. A large part of the collection have now been scanned and put online at the British Library's website.

- If you are in New York, don't miss the Medieval rings exhibition at the Met museum.

- Pottery enthusiasts might like this intact wine vessel found in Early Medieval layers in the Danish town Ribe.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
I've been contacted by Fleur Schinning, from the University of Leiden, where she's writing her MA dissertation on the use of blogs and social media and how they contribute to the accessibility of archaeology. She's asking the readers of several archaeology blogs - of which this is one - to fill in a questionnaire on why they're reading archaeology blogs etc. If that doesn't stir your heart enough (seriously: we like to help students and researchers here, ok!), you also have the chance to win six issues of Archaeology Magazine.


Public archaeology has been developing considerably in the Netherlands for the last couple of years, but much can still be improved concerning public outreach activities. This is why I have decided to focus my research on communication methods that are favourable in our current digital age and might make archaeology more accessible for a wider public.

For my research I will be looking at several blogs from both the UK and USA; in these countries blogging seems widely accepted and used a lot as a tool in creating support for archaeology, and I have come across some very interesting and successful blogs, of which your blog is one.

To be able to explore how blogging in archaeology contributes to public archaeology, I would like to question the bloggers and blog readers of these blogs. This is where my request comes in. I have set up a questionnaire in which I ask the visitors of your blog several questions regarding their motives for visiting the blog and so on.

The questionnaire can be viewed here: http://goo.gl/forms/z3BAUTyYUL. All participants also have a chance to win a small prize; 6 issues of Archaeology Magazine!

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ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
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