ossamenta: Weasel skull (Ecumenical matter)
Forgot these ones:

- Recently retired Professor of Archaeology at York and well-known zooarchaeologist Terry O'Connor posted useful advice for newbie zooarchaeologists. Read it well: there is much truth in it.

- Some supercool Danish finds include a deposit of c.2000 small gold spirals dated to the Bronze Age. They think the spirals were possibly part of clothing decoration. (Danish article)
And last year they found 5000 year old foot prints as they were excavating for the Femern Belt tunnel.

- Bone assemblages that probably represent waste from feasts are found now and again in archaeology. Organising elaborate feasts was not only a way to display wealth (you could afford to slaughter this many animals) but also to bring a community together. An unusual feasting assemblage has been found in Llanmaes, an Iron Age site in Wales. About 80% of all bones from livestock came from pig – in itself unusual – but most of the pig bones came from the right fore limb. Such patterns are very unusual, and the archaeologists think that the bones represent joints that were brought to a communal feast where each participant brought an equal (literally) share of the food.
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.


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Close-up of hole
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
If you have any money to spare after rent, bills, Christmas presents etc, there are two osteoarchaeology-relevant causes that would appreciate a contribution.

The Grant Museum in London needs money to clean 39 of their mounted skeletons from extremely rare species (quagga, Ganges river dolphin etc). It's a really cool museum - Victorian style cluttered cases with skeletons, wet specimens, taxidermies etc - and since it's been around since 1828 as a teaching collection they have some really cool things in there. A visit is recommended.

Swedish archaeologists want to finish the excavation of one of the houses in Sandby ring fort, analyse the finds and publish the report. I thought I had linked to this interesting site before, but apparently not (or I just hid the link very well). Anyway, it's a ring fort on the island of Öland in the Baltic Sea, just off the Swedish coast. When the archaeologists did a small excavation a few years ago, they found not only lots of gold artefacts and Roman coins, but also several skeletons. The dead hadn't been buried, but left where they fell. Some showed evidence of battle injuries, suggesting that what we are seeing is the remains of a massacre. Not your average site! It's definitely worth watching the video on kickstarter to see some shiny shiny things (and some skeletons).
ossamenta: Scientist clones dinosaur for T-rex steaks (Science)
Yesterday I and two colleagues went to the Integrating zooarchaeology and stable isotopes-conference in Cambridge. I had to get up very early, but it was worth it. About half of the talks were relevant to me, even if the practical applications may be beyond my normal budgets.

Of particular interest to me were:
- the fallow deer project, on (among other topics) the introduction of fallow deer in Europe. The isotope studies are only beginning, but there are evidence for first generation imports at the Roman villa in Fishbourne on the south coast of England.

- Carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis of animals and grains from the Danebury Iron Age hillfort and from surrounding sites suggest that the simple model of surrounding producer sites and a high status central consumer site must be revised. Such a model would result in different isotope values on the producer sites, reflecting the different local geology, and wide-ranging isotope values on the consumer site encompassing all isotope values from the producer sites. The research is ongoing, but since the isotope values on all sites were very similar, it may indicate a more complex trade and exchange system.

- Pigs from medieval urban sites are usually interpreted as being ”backyard pigs”, fed on scraps and kept for meat. Several contemporary written sources confirm the presence of pigs kept in urban environments, and so far little time and money has been spent trying to contradict this. However, isotope analysis on pig bones from Medieval York indicate that the vast majority of the sampled animals (N:23) were fed the same protein-low diet as sheep from York and pigs from the nearby village Wharram Percy, suggesting that they were kept on pannage in rural areas. Obviously more research (and samples!) are needed but it is apparent that medieval (and Roman? Saxon? Post-medieval?) pig keeping was more complex than what zooarchaeologist normally have assumed.

- Strontium values on cattle teeth from the Late Iron Age/Roman village Owslebury, near Winchester, showed three different ranges of isotope values, indicating three different origin regions for these cattle. Unfortunately we only got to see the strontium map of entire Britain, and to ”accurately” pinpoint possible origin regions for these animals you need a much more detailed map, as small pockets of different geologies can be found within sections of the dominant geology in a particular region. Again, more research is needed.

As you can see, there are several people who’s future Ph.D.s and research ideas I will keep an eye out for. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find personal research sites for these topics, but if any blog reader is interested, name and contact details should be found on the conference webpage.

It was a good day out, and I could finally visit the archaeology and anthropology museum, which was closed for rebuilding the other times I’ve been to Cambridge. They had one of the Star Carr antler frontlets!!! If only I had brought my camera…

Interestingly, the gender ratio on the conference participants skewed heavily to women. About 80% women! Seriously, where are the male archaeologists? Are they not interested in isotopes or in zooarchaeology? I knew environmental archaeology in Britain is predominantly female, but I didn't expect laboratory archaeology to be the same. I'd guess that British archaeology as a whole would be at least 40-60% either way, but what on earth are the men specialising in/researching then?


If I have got anything wrong in my write-ups, please let me know.
ossamenta: (Book store = shiny!)
While browsing the Swedish Arkeologiforum (Archaeology forum - as if you couldn't guess :-) ), I came across a post on new excavations at Illerup Ådal. They haven't started yet, but funding has been acquired, so I will keep any eye out for more news. I find the Iron Age warfare sacrificial deposits in the North German/South Danish bogs fascinating, and it will be interesting to see what more they will find. They have found so many weapons, animals, and pieces of the warriors' outfits, but now they are going to dig in an area where lots of human bones have been discovered. Warriors on the losing side, or the dead ones on the winning side?
Article in Danish, and lots more information on Illerup Ådal here.

I'm planning to spend some money on books for my Ph.D. idea and through various site hopping* found a free online book (.pdf) on Medieval and Post-medieval smithing: Schmiedehandwerk in Mittelalter und Neuzeit. Beiträge des 6. Kolloquiums des Arbeitskreises zur archäologischen Erforschung des mittelalterlichen Handwerks. Perhaps it can be of interest? (The dead tree version is out of stock)


*: Oxbow and Antikmakler are great sites for archaeology books. Readers, do you have any favourites?


Remember my lament on the lack of zooarchaeology blogs a few posts ago? Kristina Killgrove of Powered by osteons gave me a really good tip: Jake's bones. It's a great blog written by a ten year old bone collector. I wish my parents let me have such fun when I was a kid. The fact that we lived in a large town and not in the wilds of Scotland may of course have something to do with it...
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.

Back again

Oct. 26th, 2011 09:06 pm
ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
I'm back at work now, and luckily no emergencies had come up while I was away. I'm the only animal bone expert there (apart from my fish specialist boss) so unfortunately I can't delegate site visits and such. The holiday was lovely, but as usual too short. Holidays always are, aren't they? I didn't do that much, mainly visiting friends and family and relaxed. I got some good tips on how to angle my ph.d. proposal for next time, so now I have lots of reading to do for next year.

Work is continuing in the busy-mode. Right now I'm juggling three different sites, all in the process of being phased - which is why I can't do them one by one: I do the phased part of one site, then go over to the next, while the rest of site one gets phased. If I had lots of time (which you never do in commercial archaeology) I could record all the bones from the entire site, regardless of phasing and then ignore the unphased bones later when it came to the actual analysis/write-up. But since I'm on a limited budget, I can only record bones from securely phased contexts, ergo this site juggling.

I came across a couple of interesting things, which I thought I'd share with you:
- A decorated spindle whorl from an Iron Age Swedish site.

- A workshop at the archaeology department at Lund University (Sweden) Thursday 3 November 15.15-18.00: To find Iron Age settlements with metal detectoring. (All in Swedish though)
Talks: Kristina Jennbert: Vadå metalldetektering?; Charlotte Fabech: Bebyggelse och metallföremål - en landskapsarkeologisk utmaning. Tanker efter undersökningarna i Stora Hammar; Håkan Svensson: Det glimmar på dumphögen - om avbaningsarkeologins begränsningar och möjligheter; Birgitta Hårdh: Fibulor som massmaterial.

- An intact Viking Age boat burial found in Scotland.
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).

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ossamenta: Weasel skull (Default)
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