ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
Last Saturday was the twice-yearly Professional Zooarchaeology Group meeting, this time at Museum of London Archaeology, with the topic Unusual deposits. This included animal burials and associated bone groups, remains from feasting, animal bone in cremations, and other ”ususal” bone assemblages. We also had a galliform identification session, which proved that correctly id’ing fowl and their close relatives can be tricky.

Animal burials and their close association associated bone groups (ABGs), are tricky things in zooarchaeology. They started out as functional deposits (diseased animal unfit for consumption buried in a pit/ditch), and then went on to become ritual deposits (foundation sacrifices etc) sometime in the 1980s. Myself, I’m more of the it’s more complicated option, and will assume that both options can be likely interpretations. Butchery marks and deposition contexts can be a clue in what actually happened above ground back then, and can therefore help us get closer in our interpretations.

The two festing talks, one on Neolithic and early Bronze Age assemblages and one a case study of the Iron Age Hallaton assemblage, discussed ways to distinguish feasting remains from ordinary kitchen waste. This includes, but of course are not limited to, differences in species frequency*, skeletal element distribution**, age and sex, butchery and disposal.

*: Almost all bone remains from Hallaton were pig, which only comprises 20-30% of the cattle/sheep/pig bone assemblages in the region.
**: While all body parts were represented at Hallaton, the right distal limb bones were severely underrepresented. Were these bones placed elsewhere as a votive offering? Similar distribution biases occurr in Anglo-Norman deer remains, then connected to deer butchery rituals, so called unmaking of the deer, where different portions are given to different people according to rank and status.

The galliform practice session was very interesting, and rightfully probably made several of us tear our hair. We often do our identification under short budgets, and meticulously id'ing all bones from the tricky taxa (sheep/goat, horse/mule/donkey, canids, galliforms etc) can rarely be done. Often a few easily identifiable bones from these taxa get the proper treatment, and the rest are categorised as sheep/goat, or in the case of equids and canids: horse and dog, as the assemblages are more likely to include these species than the others in that group. But, this method, while useful to keep costs down, will also fail to recognise many rare species. There are few donkeys recorded for Roman Britain, and even fewer mules. But they were very likely used in the Roman army for transport - we just don't have the time to do detailed metric analyses of all "horse" bones we come across (particularly since mule bones overlap horse bones in size). Also, information on the introduction and spread of peafowl and pheasant suffers from lack of extensive data.

After the meeting we sojourned to a very nice nearby pub, The Island Queen. As snow was reported coming in over the country, those of use who lived in the midlands and northwards left earlier, but we from the southern parts said ”Nah, it’s probably not going to snow here until some time in the night. Let’s have another pint.” But when we left the pub (after only two pints, I’ll have you know), snow was falling. It hardly stuck to the ground as London does generate a lot of ambient heat, but it was pretty and we all felt very christmassy. Of course once you left London, the snow didn’t melt, and my bus got stuck in a long slow crawl on the motorway, due to general snow incompetency among many drivers. Thankfully we didn’t get stuck, and we were only two hours late into Oxford.

As an aside, #pzg is now also a topic on Twitter, thanks to [twitter.com profile] jimbonesmorris at MoLA.
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: Weasel skull (Default)
Last Saturday I went to Cambridge for the PZG meeting. This time the theme was butchery: how to record it, interpretations of butchery etc.

Some interesting thoughts on butchery patterns arose in two talks: on Roman and on Saxon butchery. Roman butchery seems to have been fairly consistent in urban, military and in some rural sites, the latter often road side settlements. This shows as long bones split down the middle and cleaver marks along the length of the bones. No fiddling around, just chop the meat of the bones (any bone protuberances will be chopped off as well) and then whack them open and scoop out the marrow. This is very suitable method when lots of people needs to be fed, such as towns and military sites. The rural sites don’t always match this, but could possibly be explained by retired urban or military butchers settling down elsewhere?

The Saxon sites (and unfortunately my notes didn’t make it clear whether this is valid for all sites, or only trade centres/only rural settlements) are also consistent, but in a different way: chop marks occur mostly on cattle, wheras knifes were used for disarticulation of sheep/goat and pig bones*. Skulls of all species were split lengthwise to remove the brain. The head was removed and the carcass split along the middle. This could either be done along the ”proper” midline or slightly offset. The former method would require suspending the carcass, which for the heavier cattle carcasses required sturdy beams in the slaughter house. Butchery method can thus be connected to architecture, showing that one section of archaeology cannot function in a vacuum, so to speak.

*: Sawing was only used for bone and antler working up to the later post-medieval period. Sawing took longer time, but was a precision method very suitable for craftsmen.


How to record butchery then? It depends what you want to get out of it (and, what other researchers want to get out of your data - I guess all archaeologists have at least once torn out our hair when reading interesting sentences in old reports, but which lacked the crucial information we needed). A variety of methods were used, from drawing the butchery marks on drawings of bones (later included in the site archive, but only a written summary included in the report itself), describing the butchery mark and its placement, the usage of various codes (often using the same base with individual modifications). In the end it was decided to try to come to some consensus, so it would be easier to use data from others. Hopefully something useful will come out of this. The problem is of course that each person thinks their way is preferable :-) and somewhere, something has to give.

And where to record? Databases seem obvious, but what kind of database? Windows are rather universal, but can be costly for freelancers and small units. Open source is good from a cost perspective, but which program? I’ve heard that Open Office’s database program is not as good as Access, but I assume there are others out there. I wish I had the skills to build my own, but for me, and for many others (most others?) in the community, computerese is a language we are not fluent in. I tried to teach myself Access a few years ago, but the books were either at the ”This is how you open a document”-stage or the ”need to be fluent in computerese/know at least one programming languages”-level. And they all assumed you were going to use Access for small scale business economics, and little of the information could be transferred to things I needed to know. Sigh.

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