ossamenta: Scientist clones dinosaur for T-rex steaks (Science)
There's so many things going on in my life now that I've been neglecting this blog a bit, and in particular letting the interesting links build up. I hope I can get rid of a fair few in this post.

- Author Nicola Griffith wrote an interesting post about elves, gender, Anglo-Saxon medical practice and how this was changed by Christianization.

- Another author (and historian), Kari Sperring did an half-hour talk at Exilicon on the real history of the three musketeers (video)

- A newly discovered velociraptor ancestor with feathers.

- In line with strange and mysterious ritual stuff, an Iron Age site in Dorset produced composite animals deposited in pits: A cow with horse legs, a sheep with an extra head at its bum etc. It will be very interesting to read the subsequent research and see what they can find out about Iron Age beliefs.

- Isotope research have revealed some very interesting things over the years, often upending our previous beliefs and assumptions. The newest thing that's come to my knowledge is a study of the famous Egtved girl in Denmark. She's one of the Bronze Age oak coffin burials that were excavated in the late 19th and early 20th century, where circumstances had managed preservation of organic remains, and they are subsequently our main source for Scandinavian Bronze Age clothing. Researchers took isotope samples from her teeth, hair, nails as well as from her clothing and found out that she wasn't Danish at all! (nor was her clothing) The isotope signatures point elsewhere, possibly what's now southeastern Germany (the geology is consistent with this, but more importantly (as this type of geology is found elsewhere) the archaeological record indicates a relationship between Denmark and this area during the Bronze Age). Correlating hair growth rate and several samples along one strand of hair, they also found that she had been going back and forth between Denmark and the other region (probably NW Germany) during her last two years in life. (A more detailed article in Danish)

- Of course, sometimes science makes things more boring. A DNA analysis of the hair tufts and hair cords found on the Norse settlement The Farm Beneath the Sand on Greenland changed the species identification from bear, bison and muskox (signifying trade with North America) to horse and goat (not signifying trade with North America).

- Neanderthal bone flutes were apparently made by hyenas, not Neanderthals.

- There's a new theory on why the wooly mammoth became extinct: osteoporosis may have "helped".

- The Paston Letters is one of the largest archives of 15th-century English private correspondence, comprising about 1000 letters and documents including petitions, leases, wills and even shopping lists. They offer a unique glimpse into the personal lives of three generations of the Paston family from Norfolk over a period of 70 years. A large part of the collection have now been scanned and put online at the British Library's website.

- If you are in New York, don't miss the Medieval rings exhibition at the Met museum.

- Pottery enthusiasts might like this intact wine vessel found in Early Medieval layers in the Danish town Ribe.
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
I haven’t been to any archaeo/zooarch conferences since EAA2012, and since I can’t afford to go to ICAZ (this time it’s in Argentina!), I was very glad to see that the Postgraduate Zooarchaeology Forum was going to have their annual-ish* conference in London, and doubly glad that due to ICAZ the registration fee was only £10! The programme was very interesting and well worth one holiday from my yearly allowance.

*: meetings in 2009, 2010 and 2012.

Talk summaries under the cut )

The Institute of Archaeology is in the middle of the UCL complex between Euston Road and the British Museum, so it’s easy to get to (and they have a lovely little terrace on the top floor with a view over the trees in the square opposite!). The drawback is of course limited space for (for example) reference collections, but the students have access to the Natural History Museum’s collections which is a huge help for bone identification, particularly since UCL specialises in Near East and African zooarchaeology. We were given a tour of the lab, and they have some really interesting things, such as Simon Hillson’s loose tooth collection and part of the pathological bones used by Don Brothwell when he and John Baker wrote Animal diseases in archaeology in 1980. When our guide opened the "Pathology: infections" drawer, there was that wonderful combined oooh and eeeww sound you get when a bunch of zooarchaeologists see a cow mandible with an advanced stage of "lumpy jaw".

several animal bones with bone changing pathologies
One of the pathology drawers. The lumpy jaw cattle mandible is at the top, in the middle of the photo.


UCL archaeology department terrace
UCL archaeology department terrace
The lunch terrace at the archaeology department
ossamenta: Scientist clones dinosaur for T-rex steaks (Science)
I have to take a break from the big rural Roman site, since there are a few smaller sites with urgent deadlines that have to go first. In one way, it's nice to have a bit of a break, think about other time periods and regions, having to write and not just record. But on the other hand it would be nice just to get on with it, and finish one site before starting another. But that's commercial archaeology for you.


I was linked to this, and found Trowelblazers - a site about female archaeologists at the beginning of the 20th century.
"Why hadn't I heard of these women? Not the individual names -- I can barely name any male archaeologists from that period -- but the idea of these women, working in such numbers and even leading their fields. It was as though we'd blithely wiped them all from our popular imaginations, and thus allowed each woman to be easily dismissed [...] as an exception-to-the-masculine- rule.

Martin Rundqvist posted about a really interesting site dug by our colleagues in Salisbury: 800 years of human sacrifice in Kent. Isotope analyses show that some of the dead people grew up in Scandinavia, some in the Mediterranean, and some were local. The researchers think that the sacrificed people could have been slaves, raided from various places in Europe, ending up in Kent. Perhaps the people with local isotope signatures were children of slaves who originally came from elsewhere?

Katy Meyers at Bones don't lie posted about another isotope project. This time it's an Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Bamburgh, in northern England, where they found a great variation of isotope signatures among the population. The researchers argue that this settlement may have been connected to a religious community, where people could have come from all over Christian Europe for pilgrimage or for settling into the community.

The ultimate memento mori, a great idea for Halloween, or just plain fun for the bone mad among us? A Dutch artist 3D prints his own skeleton. I can see so many possibilities with this :-) .
ossamenta: (Book store = shiny!)
Winchester is an interesting town. The ”first” settlement was an Iron Age hill fort, then at c. 70AD the Romans came and established a town there. In the early and mid-Saxon period there seems to be a decline of the town, but in 662AD Winchester becomes the site of the bishopric, and then becomes the capital of the kingdom of Wessex. After the Norman invasion London takes over the throne (so to speak), but Winchester remained the site of the bishopric. And not just any bishopric: the See of Winchester was one of the wealthiest in Medieval England.

winchester book cover

The Northgate House, Staple Gardens and Winchester Discovery Centre (formerly Winchester Library) sites are located in the north-west corner of the Roman and Medieval town, within the walls*. The Saxon (and Medieval) street Brudene Stret (nowadays Staple Gardens) separates the sites. There is plot continuation throughout the Late Saxon, Anglo-Norman and High Medieval periods, which lent itself to comparisons between the plots both spatially and chronologically. However, in the early 13th century, the buildings on the northwest side of Brudene Stret were demolished and the area formed part of the Archdeacon’s residence.

The book gives an introduction to the sites, including documentary evidence from the Medieval period and land use over time. The next few chapters discuss the two sites by period: Prehistoric and Roman, Late Saxon (c. 850-1150), and Anglo-Norman/Medieval (c. 1150-1550). The latter two chapters are discussed by property, which would facilitate easy chronological comparison. Thereafter follows a discussion of the site in a wider context, again by period. Here the Late Saxon and Anglo-Norman/Medieval periods are combined and form a substantial chapter, discussing the creation of the town, building development, water supply, pit function, industry and craft (metal working, textile working, skinning and furriering**, bone and horn working), and the Archdeacon’s residence.

There is a short chapter on the scientific dating evidence, i.e. radio carbon dating and archaeomagnetic dating, a method which was chosen since there was an abundance of fired hearths in situ throughout the Saxon period. A large number of dating samples were taken to form a detailed phasing of the site, trying to find out whether the properties were laid out at the same time, or grew more organically. Other research aims included finding out whether the settlement existed before or after the ”official” foundation of the burh, and trying to calibrate the pottery dating sequence.

That’s half the book. The other half is devoted to the finds. Lots of pottery, from prehistoric to post-medieval, much building material such as tile, stone and painted wall plaster, 305 Roman coins, several ”small finds”, i.e. metal and bone objects, glass and shale. The small finds are significantly summarized in the book (a shame, as I found lots of worked bone mounts when I did my analysis, and I haven’t got around to check the cd yet - mea culpa), and the full report is included on an accompanying cd. In fact, all specialist reports, including scientific dating, are included in full on the cd. The finds section in the book also includes the ecofacts, i.e. animal bone (a lot, including evidence for a furrier’s workshop), molluscs (not many), charcoal, seeds and other plant remains (a lot, including evidence for dyeing, probably textiles), as well as human bone (mainly a small number of Roman infant burials), intestinal parasites (very few). There’s also a summary of an analysis of soil micromorphology, chemistry and magnetic susceptibility.

As with the Lankhills book, there are plenty of drawing and colour photographs throughout the book. I would recommend the book to anyone with an interest in urban archaeology from these periods.


*: The layout of the town wall didn’t change much over the centuries. Waste not, want not, I guess.
**: This is one of the sites I use for my tawyers and furriers talk at the conference in Gdansk in September. It’s (AFAIK) the second site in Britain where they have found dumps of bones from squirrel feet - one of the most common fine furs in the Medieval period and subject of a huge industry and trade. The other site is much later in the period: The Bedern in York (14th century).

B.M. Ford and S. Teague, 2011. Winchester - a city in the making. Archaeological investigations beteeen 2002 and 2007 on the sites of Northgate House, Staple Gardens and the former Winchester Library, Jewry Street. Oxford Archaeology Monograph No. 12.
ossamenta: (Book store = shiny!)
First, thanks for the well-wishes. The interview seemed to go well: some things that they liked about me, and some things I could improve on. We'll see what happens.

The new Oxbow summer catalogue is out and I thought I'd give a shout-out to some that seemed interesting. A lot of the catalogue is on Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, which I'm not enough familiar with to tell which books are of general relevance and which are only for the artefact/regional specialists. If you are interested in those periods I recommend you check out their website. An exception was made for books of interest to re-enactors and people interested in making replicas of historical finds, as there were a few of those in the Roman section.

Cut for lots of books )
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
I'm in between bone reports at the moment, so I spend my time helping the enviromental department with soil sample processing. We take soil samples on excavations to find remains of charred grains, small fish bones, snails etc - i.e. things we can't find by hacking out a ditch with a mattock (depite popular belief, trowels aren't the most commonly used tools on excavations). Soil samples are also taken from burials. After the skeleton has been recorded and removed, the grave fill gets sampled so we don't miss small bones - particularly when the graves contain infants or small children - possible foetal remains or calcified cysts.

Buckets with soil then come to the processing area, where the environmental archaeologists sieve them through various mesh sizes. Not the most exciting part of archaeology in my opinion, since I don't find charred grains and snails to be that interesting. But yesterday the soil revealed something that made my day: an Anglo-Saxon spindle whorl! I don't think I've ever seen one outside a museum before.

Anglo-Saxon spindle whorl
Admittedly not that exciting, but compared to the rest of the stuff that remained in the mesh - 96% gravel, 1% pottery fragments, 2% bone, 1% snails - it was utterly awesome.
ossamenta: Scientist clones dinosaur for T-rex steaks (Science)
I have had some plans to write a post on isotope analysis and all the cool things you can do with that in archaeology, seeing as I had mentioned isotopes before, and perhaps not all readers were familiar with that. Today is not that day. Today is the day when I get forcefully reminded of my intentions, as Bristol University hope to, via isotopes, identify the remains of Queen Eadgyth (Edith), an Anglo-Saxon princess who married Otto I, the Holy Roman emperor in the early 10th century.

Her skeleton was found in a large early 16th century monument in Magdeburg Cathedral, wrapped in silk within a lead coffin inscribed: “The rescued remains of Queen Eadgyth are in this sarcophagus, after the second renovation of this monument in 1510." However, since there was a large trade in relics during the Middle Ages, and since bodies of nobles and royality could be skeletised if they had died inconveniently far from their intended burial place, it's not 100% certain that the skeleton actually is Eadgyth. Hopefully the tests will be able to tell whether this woman came from England or from elsewhere.

I will keep you posted.


- Press release
- A more detailed report from The Independent

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