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Zooarchaeology - PowerPoint PPT Presentation

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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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Zooarchaeology l.jpg


What is Zooarchaeology?

Recovery and Counting

Comparative Collections

Subsistence Strategies


What is zooarchaeology l.jpg
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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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  • 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.

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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

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  • Hunting and Gathering-wild animals

  • Pastoralism-herding domestic animals

  • Horticulture-wild and domestic animals

  • Agriculture-wild and domestic animals

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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.

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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.