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What Animal Bones Can Tell Us In Archaeology

By: Grahame Johnston - Updated: 21 Nov 2017 | comments*Discuss
 
What Animal Bones Can Tell Us In Archaeology

The bones and teeth of animals are frequently collected in substantial quantities on archaeology excavation sites. In studying these animal bones it is important in osteology to apply contextual reflections when closely examining the remains. Animal bones, discovered on digging sites, reveal a once-living population that ate, reproduced and died long ago.

The bone remains of animals could be those of domesticated herds and pets or feral animals hunted and killed for food. A collection of animal bones from one part of an ancient settlement may not entirely reflect the purposes or uses of other animals whose remains are located elsewhere on the same site. Therefore, the whole site must be examined and areas placed into the context of their origin.

Human and Animal Interaction And Archaeology

Most animal bones found on a digging site are significant to more than just osteology. Archaeology has shown that animals that lived and died in the past were often deliberately reared for local food, farmed for trade and exchange, hunted for sport or provisions, slaughtered either in the open or in specially constructed abattoirs, dressed and redistributed or eaten on the spot, and sometimes even adored and worshipped.

By studying these remains the animal bone expert helps to discover more about how people interacted with animals in the past. It can assist in archaeology in understanding the transitions in the development of livestock farming in early cultures. It also can shed light into the varied world of ancient religions, permitting us to appreciate how the ancients used animals for sacrifice and veneration. Knowledge of the wealth and health of a past civilization can be more than gleaned through the examination of the animals that a society interacted with.

Animal Exploitation And Humans

The osteological study of ancient animal bones is normally regarded as a distinct and separate science to that of the palaeontologist who is generally focused on fossil evidence from animals considered to have not inter-related with humans.

Humans have always economically exploited animals. They have, and still do, use animals for milk, meat, wool, fur, skins, leather, transport, machinery, and companionship.

Determining Age, Sex, and Size Of Animals With Osteology

As with human bone analysis, the osteologist is attempting to ascertain age, gender, size (height and weight), diet, and means of death of the living animal. An archaeology site will usually only yield domesticated animal bones. Much data can be collected that will portray how the animal was used and how it died.

One of the key factors that commonly unlock the question of what an animal was used for is the age at which it died. For example, archaeologists digging at a site previously occupied by an economy based on dairy products (milk and cheese etc) are most likely to uncover bones of many young animals with relatively few older ones. This hypothesis mirrors modern dairying techniques where high milk production is assured by quickly removing newborn calves from their mothers. On the other hand, if animals are farmed primarily for meat, most will be deliberately slaughtered only once they have attained a suitable adult size and economic weight.

Straightforward deductions like this may make the osteologist's work sound way too simple but acquiring the necessary information from bone fragments and reducing all the data to a relevant conclusion demands careful laboratory scrutiny.

Examining the Teeth For Archaeology Information

A variety of archaeology techniques can identify an animal's age at death. Animal bone specialists use standard observation classifications on the assemblage that compares known size to age data. Animal teeth are an important source of age dating information. For example, intelligent estimates can be drawn by examination of which teeth have erupted. Extant deciduous teeth will prove the subject to be very young while well-ground, large, permanent teeth provide evidence of near terminal age.

Is That Animal Bone Young or Old?

Bone fusion is a natural stage in bone morphology. Larger limb bones in all juvenile animals remain detached from the shaft. This permits the bone to grow, longitudinally during development. When the animal has reached full adult size the bones fuse together. By observing the degree of fusion the specialist can determine the age that the animal died.

What Is A Butcher's Mark

Animals killed for food or sacrifice often display butchery marks from the tools of slaughter. In archaeology it's been discovered that flint tools from early periods struggled to dismember the carcass anywhere other than the soft joints of the bones. Evidence of stone tool cut marks in these areas might explain meat processing techniques as well as the tools that were employed. The holistic use of the animal meant that major limb shafts were broken open by a number of methods in order to extract the marrow for consumption. Crushing, snapping, or chopping marks on these large bones tell us more about the butcher than the victim.

Diverse Osteology Analysis Of Bones

Bones are analysed by osteologists under microscopes, by using chemical compounds, using C14 radioactivity, by chart comparison, and ultraviolet examination.

The principal mission of the osteologist when confronted by a vast collection of ancient animal bones from an archaeology site is to identify the species, the number of animals involved, their approximate age, gender, and how their living presence impacted upon human behaviour at that time.

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[Add a Comment]
How do we knowfrombones whether an animalwas domesticatedor not?
Sankha - 21-Nov-17 @ 2:21 PM
Emj90 - Your Question:
Hi we have found 12 horse teeth when digging to put a fence post in. All were laid out as if the head was there at some point. We haven't come across any skeleton. We just wondered if you could help us find someone to identify and age these teeth as for us it's quite exciting. We think the teeth are fossilised but unsure of this which is why would like to get in touch with an expert. Many thanks

Our Response:
We can't recommend any experts sorry. Have you tried museums? Your local council?
ArchaeologyExpert - 19-May-17 @ 2:39 PM
Hi we have found 12 horse teeth when digging to put a fence post in. All were laid out as if the head was there at some point. We haven't come across any skeleton. We just wondered if you could help us find someone to identify and age these teeth as for us it's quite exciting. We think the teeth are fossilised but unsure of this which is why would like to get in touch with an expert. Many thanks
Emj90 - 19-May-17 @ 9:03 AM
We have theese animal bones what we do not know what they are. They are small so not big enough for a cat please could you help identity them. We dug them up in our back garden.
ruby - 28-Jul-16 @ 8:45 PM
janwar ke marne ke baad unki bones ka kya use hota hai
raj - 26-Jul-13 @ 5:55 PM
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