Isotope analysis

A Day of Statistics, Isotopes and Drilling Bones

I’m Richard Madgwick,  a zooarchaeologist employed as a British Academy post-doctoral fellow at Cardiff University. So what’s my day of archaeology been like? Having just left Çatalhöyük on Wednesday after nearly three weeks in Anatolia, I’m very much playing catch up on research that has had to take a back seat since I’ve been away. I’ve spent much of the day feeling envious of the remaining Çatalhöyük faunal team who are all enjoying a trip to Göbekli Tepe today – I picked the worst time to leave!!

Me staring a bone out

Me staring a bone out

My day has been split between two research projects – one tedious (but worthy!) and the other more practical and interesting. I spent the morning doing some multivariate statistical analysis on a large dataset of around 25,000 animal bones. I’m using a snappily named approach called backwards stepwise binary logistic regression to assess what factors impact on the preservation and modification of animal bones in the archaeological record. This follows on from my PhD research and I’m currently looking in to the causes of abrasion of archaeological bones. Trampling, exposure to acidic conditions, utilisation, earthworm activity. bioturbation, boiling and roasting and water action have all been cited as causes of abraded (or polished) bone but until we know the factors that are important in its occurrence it’s difficult to make any sense of patterns.I spent the afternoon drilling, abrading, weighing and demineralising bone samples from the late Neolithic site of Durrington Walls, next to Stonehenge. I now have 50 chunks of pig jaw happily fizzing away in weak acid in the lab. This is the first part of the sample preparation for isotope analysis – in this instance I’ll be analysing the samples for carbon, nitrogen and sulphur isotopes. Later I will also be testing the teeth from the jaws for strontium isotopes. This aim of the game is to understand more about how pigs were raised and where they came from. Durrington Walls is a huge feasting site and we know some cattle at the site came from Scotland thanks to the work of Sarah Viner and Jane Evans. It’s much more difficult to drag a pig over such distances, but I’m hoping I can get some evidence for long distance movement – pigs were of great importance to the feasts here and I think there’s a good chance they were sourced from a wide area. This will provide us with evidence of where people came from to take part in these great feasts.