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: Radcliffe Camera and Brasenose College, Oxford (Oxford)
The data on Merton College's food purchases are finally copied to a spread sheet. Well, only for the financial year 1488-1489 - it was the only year with a complete set of records (technically complete-ish: one week is missing). I'm working on the translation - the records are written in Latin mostly, with the occasional Middle/Early Modern English thrown in. Consistent spelling is optional. There are frustratingly many items where the dictionaries at the university library fail me. I think most of them are fish, but I'm not always certain.

There is also one regularly occuring item where the translation bugs me: "gullatts", translated as neck. The records mention type of food, but rarely what cut is purchased. Exceptions include marrow bones, calves' feet and sheep heads. Gullatt is a Sunday food, together with beef, mutton, suckling pig, calf, chicken, squab, goose and rabbit*. It's clearly something special, but "neck"? Why not just include that cut at species level, like the rest of them? Or does it have specific significance? I think my next step is looking at medieval cook books, and see if any of them mention gullatt. Most online cookbooks were written in the vernacular, so the next practical step is probably to contact people working with medieval food and cooking.

*: venison is not mentioned at all in the records since that seem to be something the college got from its own lands and not the town butchers.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
So, the big news broke yesterday: the skeleton that was found in the Greyfriars’ church in Leicester last year is Richard III. A find of a life time for most (all?) people involved, and such sheer luck that the trench hit the base of the grave.

Such a high-profile find means not only a massive media circus but also a documentary of the dig and the post-excavation analysis. One day I will watch such documentaries and feel that my thirst for knowledge has been satisfied. Yesterday was not that day. Admittedly, the documentary did one thing good: it showed that if you have a high emotional investment in the outcome of the research, live recordings of your reactions are very likely to make you look like a complete fool. "That is not the face of a tyrant" - I’m sorry, did you think tyrants had particular features or something???

Luckily, University of Leicester’s project page: The search for Richard III - completed is very informative, particularly for the stuff the documentary glossed over, such as details of the DNA research and osteological changes of the spine caused by the scoliosis. I just wished they had better photographs of the vertebrae.

And finally, people on the internet, can you please stop saying that he was buried in a car park. He was buried in a church, and dug up in a car park. Not the same thing even remotedly.
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: 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?

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ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
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