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Zooarchaeology. What is Zooarchaeology? Recovery and Counting Comparative Collections Subsistence Strategies Seasonality. What is Zooarchaeology?. The Study of animal bones from archaeological sites.

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What is Zooarchaeology?

Recovery and Counting

Comparative Collections

Subsistence Strategies


what is zooarchaeology
What is Zooarchaeology?
  • The Study of animal bones from archaeological sites.
  • Studies can focus on subsistence, hunting strategies, environmental change, domestication of animals, and ceremonial use of animals.
history of zooarchaeology
History of Zooarchaeology
  • 50 years ago archaeologists had bones on their sites and they began asking zoologists to identify them.
  • Some people became more and more interested and involved in these bones and began to specialize in it.
  • Today most zooarchaeologists, such as myself, are trained as archaeologists and specialize in zoology.
    • Have taken a lot of zoology classes.
    • Including Malacolgy, Ichthyology, Avian Osteology, Vertebrate Osteology.
recovery and counting
Recovery and Counting
  • Recovery of bones is subjected to bias depending on screen size and soil preservation.
  • Counting bones is not like counting flakes, flakes are extremely predictable in how they break, whereas bones are not predictable.
  • Several techniques can be used to count bones:
    • NISP-Number of Identified Specimens, counts each bone fragment as a unit.
    • MNI-Minimum Number of Individuals, first defined by T.E. White in 1953 to account for each animal as an individual unit.
    • need to identify lefts and rights of bones from a given species.
for mni given an assemblage group of bones
For MNIGiven an assemblage (group of bones):
  • How many individuals?

3 L proximal humeri (upper arm bones)

2 R proximal humeri

4 R distal femurs (upper leg bones)

2 L distal femurs

meat utility indices
Meat Utility Indices
  • MNI can be used to calculate how much meat can be obtained from a given animal.
  • 2 deer @ 100 lbs. of meat=200 lbs.
  • 5 rabbits @ 5 lbs. of meat=25 lbs.
comparative collections
Comparative Collections
  • Cannot identify animal remans without having some comparative collection.
    • modern skeleton for comparative purposes.
    • must have a series of specimens in a particular species, representing different ages and sexes.
  • Zoologists generally have collections of skulls and animal skins because they are interested in identifying and classifying modern species.
  • Weights and measurements need to be recorded so that utility indices can be estimated.
  • Maceration-in water
  • Dermestid Beetles
  • Bleach-Biz
  • Simmering-cooking the meat off
  • University of TN has a skeletal collection of over 12,000 specimens one of the best in the country.
subsistence strategies
Subsistence Strategies
  • The primary focus of zooarchaeology is to discover the subsistence techniques used by prehistoric and historic people.
  • It is important to study behavior through animal remains because most of what humans do is involved with eating.
    • celebrations-some foods have higher status than others.
    • nutritional stress-what do people eat and do when times are lean? i.e. increase diet breadth
    • habitat-a lot of what people eat (primarily prehistoric) is predicted and controlled by their environment.
  • Other aspect of diet reflects human behavior:
    • age and sex of animals
    • season of site occupation
    • cultural preferences
  • Hunting and Gathering-wild animals
  • Pastoralism-herding domestic animals
  • Horticulture-wild and domestic animals
  • Agriculture-wild and domestic animals
how is seasonality documented
How is seasonality documented?
  • Presence/Absence
    • Migratory birds
    • Cold-blooded Reptiles/Amphibians
    • Animal young
  • Skeletal Change
    • Antler Growth
    • Tooth Growth
    • Epiphyseal Fusion
  • Incremental Growth Structures-Fish Bones
    • most useful are otoliths and spines
    • otoliths are calcareous “ear stones” in the inner ear associated with balance.
  • Mammalian teeth
    • cementum annuli laid down during the year.
    • dark band slow growth, light band fast growth.
case study oronsay island scotland
Case Study: Oronsay Island, Scotland
  • Wilkinson’s study of coalfish from Mesolithic sites on island (5300-4600 ya)
  • Otoliths-sectioned and season of death documented.
  • Found seasonal fishing at four sites
    • Cnoc Sligeach-July to August
    • Cnoc Coig-Sept-November
    • Priory Midden-Winter to Early Spring
    • Caisteal nan Gillean-Spring to Summer
  • Probably movement of one group from site to site over the course of the year.