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)
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.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
I had a great time at the EAA conference, although I really would have liked a clone or two just for the extensive programme. How do you choose between so many interesting talks? I decided to go for the ”useful” option rather than the ”interesting” option. Obviously, it’s always better when these two categories mix. So in the end, I decided to go to the sessions ”Baltic urbanism”, ”Life in the city”, ”Famine, murrain and plague”, ”Settled and intinerant craft people” and sneak into the Scandinavian-related talks in ”War and warfare” and the wear traces talk in ”From bone to bead”. Obviously not all taks were relevant to me or memorable, but luckily, several were.

Read more... )
It was a good conference, and I managed to do some touristing too among all the conferencing, networking and socialising. I went on a day trip to Tallinn (gorgeous medieval city which made me miss Visby very much) and took a boat out to the 18th century fortress Soumenlinna (a great way to spend some hours). A visit is recommended.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
First, I will just let you know that our Open Day at work went well. We had lots of people showing up, and there was rarely a quiet moment in the room where I was. Admittedly not because people were overenthusiastic over animal bones, but because we also had one of the executed Vikings from the massgrave on the ridgeway on display. I clearly played second fiddle there.


Over on some Swedish archaeology blogs, there have been a few posts on tips for future archaeologists. So I thought I’d make my voice heard as well.

The first, and perhaps most important advice is: you must love archaeology. If you merely like it, get a different job and be a volunteer archaeologist on the weekends. Because if you don’t love it, how will you put up with poor pay, having to move around a lot, very hard physical work and the frequent (and/or long) unemployment periods? It will hardly come as a surprise to my readers that there are lots more archaeologists than there are jobs, and therefore you will need skills and luck in order to get where you want to go.

First (and I sort of wish I knew this when I started): check out your university options. Not all educations are the same, and one university might favour the theoretical approach, while another focusses on field archaeology skills. Likewise, if you are into a specific geographical area, search for universities that cover those. All of this might not be obvious from their webpages, so contact students and/or lecturers. Naturally, it helps if you know what you’re after, before you start asking.

As there are more archaeologists than jobs, you need to specialise. Some people go into specific find categories (bone, pottery, coins). Others try to make their career in field archaeology, and other go academic and try to get tenure. A tip would be to see in what fields there might be upcoming shortages. But again, make sure you like those options. It doesn’t matter if two of the three insect specialists in the country are in their 60s if you have a phobia for beetles. Likewise, if you’re squeamish, forensic archaeology is not for you (as one of my teachers said: ”Forensic archaeologists write those books where you don’t look at the pictures.”).

You will probably, unless you go straight into Ph.D. studies and then keep going on the narrow path of academia, be a field archaeologist for some years. It helps a lot if you are a) single, b) childless and c) not a packrat. Trying to work a field archaeologist career while having a family is difficult. Particularly if your spouse is also a field archaeologist. If you are a book worm like me, I recommend you to get an e-reader. Books are heavy! Especially when you have to move house.

Make your name known*. It sort of helps if your name isn’t the equivalent of John Smith, but that goes for all jobs, not just archaeology. Go to conferences and attend courses in areas you are interested in. Ask the teachers/lecturers if they have any jobs - even data entry or skeleton washing will look good on your CV, and you might make some good connections in the coffee break. Good connections are always important. I got my present job in fierce competition with another applicant, both of us championed by our respective referee (coincidentally, both well regarded in the field). In the end it turned out ok for both of us. I got the job, and a few months later they realised they needed another bone specialist and they hired him. But if my referee hadn’t been so well regarded or hadn’t championed me that well (to this day, I have no idea what she told them of me, but it must have been something good), I would probably not had got that job.

There are loads of tips in books and on the internet on how to write a good CV, so I won’t bother to go over that here. You can get lucky by sending out a CV even if the company hasn’t advertised a job. I have got two jobs that way (admittedly, I send one out for bone work, and instead got a job as a digger for a month), but here luck plays a big role, since if there are no jobs in the foreseeable future and your name doesn’t ring a good and clear positive bell, your CV might get filed in the trash can straightaway.

*: and in a positive way. Don’t be well known as that person who always does a shoddy job or the one who gets embarrassingly drunk and once threw up on the big conference’s guest of honour.**
**: These are fictional examples. I hope there are no readers who recognise themselves in them.

Misc. links

Jul. 4th, 2012 07:21 pm
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
I have re-surfaced after a really fun dance weekend, and while I am still very tired and have sore feet (it was so worth it!), there's no rest for the wicked (nor for anyone else either), as the big EEK project continues. Luckily I have been given an extended deadline, which was very welcome. I'm still in the recording stage, so I can't tell you if there's anything very interesting there, as these things usually first show up when you start number crunching.

But I've seen some interesting stuff online:

- Medieval horse harness with lots of bling found in Ireland. I'd love to see it in person, or, better yet, a reconstruction so you can see how shiny it would have been when it was in use.

- Excavations in northern Germany seem to have found the remains of Sliasthorp, a town connected to the Norse elite of the area. Sliasthorp lies near the trading centre Haithabu/Hedeby, similar to the situation of Adelsö and Birka in Sweden (possibly Uppåkra and Lund as well, although Lund was founded much later). This suggests that the founding of these trading places may have been directly associated with the elite rather than with traders. The trading places would also have been under control of the elite.

- And if you're interested in Flemish archaeology, Onroerend Erfgoed (the Flemish equivalent of English Heritage) has put up several of their publications online, which you can both search and browse. There is no English version of the site, but it seems fairly straightforward.

- The knitted 16th century cap collection of the Museum of London is now online. 73 caps, coifs, cap fragments, linings and earpieces have been photographed, with captions containing contextual and technical information. To browse the caps, please go to the Collections Online and enter ‘cap’ in the Keyword field with the date range 1500-1600 in the search fields.

- The seventh conference on experimental archaeology will take place in january 2013 at the University of Cardiff, Wales. Papers on any any topic related to experimental archaeology are welcome, but those that touch on the relationship between experimental and experiential* approaches are particularly welcome.The deadline for papers is July, although the webpage doesn't state if it's the first of the month or the end of the month. Hopefully the latter.

*: An experiment can be repeated by the same researcher or others. Experiential archaeology is about the experience, for example building an Iron Age house and live in it to see how the construction worked in practice. What most of the re-enactment community call experimental archaeology is in fact experiential.

- And a very interesting post from Bones don't lie discusses new research on using stable isotopes for sexing human remains. While there is an overlap in the ratios of iron isotopes between males and females, the overlap was not greater than a normal sex determination using the pelvis. Only one French assemblage was used for the study, and obviously more research is needed to see what the results are for other regions.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
Glaciers are melting, and since ice preserves organic material (like mammoths in Siberia), artefacts are popping out of the ice, so to speak. But if you don't collect them quickly, they will start to decompose and will soon be gone. In Norway, archaeologists have surveyed the receeding Breheim glacier, and have found lots of artefacts from Iron Age hunting sites, among them a woollen kirtle dated to 300AD! I can't say how awesome this is: there are so few complete garments from this time period. Other finds include shoes, hunting equipment and textiles. I haven't been able to find more detailed information (except that the kirtle is woven in a diamond twill), but I guess once the post-excavation is done, there will be some articles or press releases.

A Norwegian article has pictures of the kirtle and two videos. This slideshow gives a good view of the "site" and some more finds.

And if you're actually in Oslo, you can see lots of these finds (but not the kirtle) at the Museum of Cultural History, in the temporary exhibition The archaeology of ice. If you're like me, not in Oslo, you will have to satisfy yourself with a slideshow of the exhibition (click "Utstillingen" in the upper right corner of the previous link), which includes several of the finds: combs, arrows, textiles, as well as more ambigious wood and bark artefacts).
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
In this post I will put any of my articles and essays that can be downloaded. It is linked in the blog frame, so you don't need to bookmark it. There are some uni essays that I will put up here, but they need to be scanned and converted to pdf first. It may take a while, since it's not high up on my priority list.


- To eat or not to eat? The significance of the cut marks on the bones from wild canids, mustelids and felids from the Danish Ertebølle site Hjerk Nor (MA essay in osteoarchaeology, 2000).
The essay discusses the use of wild canids, mustelids and felids at Hjerk Nor, a Danish Ertebølle site with an unusually high amount of 'fur animal' bones. The bones from these species were studied in a microscope, and the placement of the cut marks were compared finds from two Neolithic sites in the Netherlands: Hazendonk and Swifterbant, and from one Neolithic and three Mesolithic sites in Denmark: Kongemose, Muldbjerg I, Præstelyng, and Tybrind Vig. All 'fur animal' species at Hjerk Nor were utilised for both skin and meat. Cutmarks deriving from dismembering and filleting were particularly plentiful on wild cat and otter.

Download as pdf.


- Identifiering av garverier i en arkeologisk kontext - metoder och möjligheter (MA essay in archaeology, 2010).
The essay deals with possibilities of identifying tanneries in archaeological excavations. The geographical and chronological emphasis is early medieval northern Europe, although the methods would apply for earlier and later periods and other regions as well. Documents, artefacts and pictorial evidence were examined to see what tannery indicators they could yield archaeologically. Crafts associated with the use of tanning products and tanning waste as raw material were also taken into consideration. As conclusion, the identification of tanneries is dependent on many different indicators, such as location, tanning vats, tools, dumps of horn cores, foot bones, lime and bark. Several of these indicators are not exclusive to tanneries, and it is therefore important to use as many indicators as possible in order to form a secure identification of tannery activity. The long association with shoemaking further complicates identification of tanneries.

Download as pdf. Note that this essay is written in Swedish, so it's of limited use for most people, but then again, there are lots of pictures of tanning tools, medieval images of tanners etc, which are less language dependent.
ossamenta: Scientist clones dinosaur for T-rex steaks (Science)
The irritating part of being an osteologist (well, one irritating part anyway) is that you know so many exceptions to the rules, and complications that when you see articles as this one: A skeleton excavated in the ruins of an Ipswich friary has been identified as a medieval African man, which of course is really interesting, but I do wonder how much of the statements (for example "the man was born a Muslim in 13th-Century Tunisia, who was taken to England during the ninth Crusade. It is thought he converted to Christianity before living in England for over ten years, [...] before a burial in the Friary itself.") are journalistic shortcuts and how much the scientists could actually pinpoint? 13th century - sure, I accept that. But why specifically Tunisia, and not just "coastal north Africa"? Inquiring minds want to know!

Yes, I could write to the archaeological unit that did the excavation, but you know, that would be work :-) . Or wait until the proper report gets published.


On a less grumbly note, I can recommend the following site blogs (in Swedish only, I'm afraid) for those of you who have a yearning for being out in the muck and finding cool things:
- Åkroken i Nyköping: Medieval.
- Motala Ström: Mesolithic and Neolithic (and some Iron Age too).
- Kvarteret Druvan/Dovhjorten i Jönköping: 17th century and Medieval.

Any tips on other interesting site blogs?
ossamenta: (Book store = shiny!)
Every second year the German town Lübeck hosts a big symposium on urban archaeology, focussing on the Hanseatic region, i.e. the parts of northern Europe where this mercantile alliance of cities and guilds formed a trade monopoly during the 13th-17th centuries.

Yesterday I saw that the Sackler library - the arts and archaeology library in Oxford - had bought five books with papers from those symposia, and naturally I was very curious. Two in particular merited browsing: Crafts and Luxury and Lifestyle.

The Crafts book was very interesting: an overvew of the archaeological evidence of various crafts in 43 medieval towns in 14 countries, ranging from Cork in the west to Novgorod in the east, and from Konstanz in the south to Bergen in the north. There are only two craft specific articles: on paternoster bead making (focussing on Konstanz) and on building construction in Pskov. Now, despite I’m saying overview, the papers are enough detailed to yield useful information for each craft that was discussed. Naturally all crafts in these towns have not been included, since many leave little or no identifiable remains at all. I found it very interesting to see what’s been found in other towns, particularly for ways to identify craft activites from archaeological remains.

The luxury symposium was held two years later, in 2006, and concern more ”shinier” items. Not to the level of royal luxury, but more well off merchants and nobility. The area and countries present are mostly the same as in the Crafts symposium. This book was not so relevant for me, since I’m mostly interested in everyday crafts, and while animal bones can be used to discuss status, this is hardly mentioned at all here. Still, the book would be very useful for archaeologists and finds specialists that are interested in ways to express high status through objects during the Middle Ages and Early Modern period and to archaeologically identify high-status households.

I can highly recommend these books not only for archaeologists, but also for re-enactors, as photos and drawings of many interesting objects have been included. Unfortunately there are no colour photographs, probably to keep the cost down. Even so, a quick search showed that the books cost €50 each, so I guess it’s more a matter of inter library loan and photocopying the relevant pages rather than actually buying the books. Language-wise, the papers are either in English or in German. It’s a rough 50-50 split, and all summaries are in the other language.

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