ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
After over ten years as a zooarchaeologists, most bones have a certain ordinariness about them. It's butchery waste, sometimes industrial waste, and the occasional buried animal. Even if it's artefacts or pathologies you would at least have spotted similar bones in books or articles. But now and again you find a bone that makes you go WTF?

The latest one came from an Iron Age pit from a large settlement in Oxfordshire. It's a cheek part of a horse mandible with a smooth hole in it. Unfortunately we only have one half of the mandible, but I assume it was originally part of a set (as opposed to cattle mandibles, the two sides of horse mandibles are fused). The hole is smooth on all edges, so it couldn't have been suspended stationary for all its use - if so, only one part would have been smooth. The cord may have been large enough to fill the hole entirely, but it must have moved occasionally in order to smoothen the edges.

I have no idea how to interpret this. I have never seen anything similar in any book or article. Are we dealing with the partial remains of a horse head that was displayed and later discarded? I know that the classic definition of "ritual" being an "All-purpose explanation used where nothing else comes to mind" (recommended book, btw), but I can't think of any other way to explain this.


 photo P1060264_zpsajdn6by4.jpg

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Close-up of hole
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.
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: Close-up of Viking Age rune stone (Ashmolean runestone)
I can't believe it's already November. At least here in England it's still quite a nice autumn: leaves in many different colours and it's not too cold yet. I shouldn't complain. Although I still feel time is passing too quickly. Christmas decorations are up in the larger shops, and I guess it'll only be a short time until they start pumping out the Christmas music too...

For extra fun and joy I'm now working on four sites: I got an evaluation that needs to be in very soon, and that must take precedence over the other sites. Evaluations are "pre-excavations", where we set out trenches across the entire development area and then see what we find in these. That way we can estimate how much archaeology there will be in the development area, which then influences how much it will cost to properly excavate the area. This will then get tendered on, so if you estimate too high, you are not very likely to get the job. On the other hand, if you estimate too low you will either do a rush job which English Heritage/the county archaeologist will not like and force you to do a better job (but for the same low cost...), or you risk losing money if it turns out that there was more exciting and costly things below ground that you originally expected and costed for. It's fine line to walk between doing a good job and actually getting the job contract.


In case you wonder, I'm not doing NaNoWriMo, or the blogging/short story/knitting/whatever equivalent. I'm writing a lot in my job and both the ph.d. applications, the job application and the conference talk have kept me extra busy this year. Technically I could tackle the UFO* pile, but I think that will be a "slowly but surely"-project rather than a focussed "let's keep all evenings very busy"-project. Best of luck to you who are giving NaNoWriMo a go.

*: UnFinished Object


There has been more info on the spindle whorl I linked to in last post: the back of the piece is also decorated and shows some wear, indicating that it's been made from another artefact. The archaeologists are unsure whether the decoration would be runes or a Sami pattern. There are also small holes on the back, two of which contain small bits of iron.

And since I assume only a few of you read online horse magazines, here's a link to an article on the new evidence for horse domestication in Saudi Arabia and in Kazakhstan. (Thanks to Lee Broderick from the ZooArch list)

Close-up on some of the Swedish finds that are going to be in a touring exhibition on Vikings in 2012. [personal profile] pearl, this is relevant to your interests.

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ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
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