Dem bones, dem bones…

Zooarchaeology training – 14th August 2019

On Wednesday nine of us gathered at Home Farm, Teffont Evias for an afternoon of animal bone study led by one of the world’s rarities, a freelance zooarchaeologist.  Clare Rainsford generously gave her time and expertise to DAG to throw some light on this fascinating subject and Home Farm kindly allowed us to use their office space as the weather was dreadful and the barn reserved for the study was far too inhospitable for us less-seasoned archaeologists.

So what did we learn? First up we learned that zooarchaeology is the study of the relationship between archaeological bone finds and ancient peoples.  Clare then chucked us in the bony version of the deep-end by setting us the challenging task of assembling a cat and a sheep skeleton from what appeared to be bags of random bones. We approached the task with lots of enthusiasm but less skill, with the sheep group being particularly flummoxed by the hind leg differences between sheep and man.   By studying the difference in skeletons we were taught to distinguish between bird and mammal, the predator and the prey, the herbivore and the carnivore, the cloven-hooved and the single-hooved or ungulate. We learned how to identify horse and cow teeth from the patterns in the chewing surface, although there were varying degrees of conviction over the similarity of patterns to butterflies and snoopy dogs! 

Importantly, we gained some understanding into how the socioeconomic status of a past society can be determined to some extent through animal bone finds.  For example, deer bones found in an urban environment could suggest that the animals had been brought from their natural habitat for sport or food, a possible sign of economic prosperity.

20190814_152334DAG Chair David Croot getting to grips with the difference between a horse’s hoof and a chicken wishbone.

The afternoon was very informative and enjoyable and we left Teffont Evias considerably more knowledgeable about animal bones than when we arrived.

The knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone…

Our sincere thanks to Clare for putting over this complex subject in such an entertaining and understandable way and the next time we are on an excavation we will be better equipped to identify the bones we dig up.

Blog by Eve and photos by Sophie.

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