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 jimbonesmorris