Zooarchaeologist, paleoecologist, and Research Assistant Professor at University of New Mexico

Data analysis in the afternoon

Some people say the morning is the best time to write, but I like the afternoon.  In the morning I’m too distracted by all the various to-dos that I know are on my list for the day; I find I’m better off getting some of those things done in the morning and then plopping down in front of the computer after lunch. The only problem with this schedule is that it seems many others use afternoons as their errand time.  So while my phone, email, etc tend to be blissfully silent in the morning, in the afternoon, if I need to leave my phone/email on for some reason (or if I just forget to turn them off) it’s a constant stream of interruptions.  So it has been this afternoon.


My plan for the afternoon had originally been to finish up an article on one part of the Navajo project – it’s almost there.  But then I got several emails/phone calls, all about different important matters that don’t take much time to address but which I did need to deal with.  Unfortunately, I don’t deal with distractions at all well while writing; I really need a block of time in which to concentrate.  So I abandoned ship on finishing the article today.  Maybe over the weekend.


Instead, I turned to data and statistics.  The beauty of this kind of work in this situation is that it’s something I can do with interruptions – in fact, I find interruptions to be useful.  I can keep thinking about a data problem in the back of my head while dealing with something else.


So today when interruptions derailed my writing, I turned to my Spanish project.  Earlier this summer, I was in Valencia, Spain, looking at a zooarchaeological collection of leporids (or rabbits) from the site of Cueva de Nerja.  Now, it’s time to take those data and figure out what they mean.  My question in looking at these rabbit bones has to do with how the rabbits were being hunted.  Did the prehistoric inhabitants of Nerja take these on the landscape?  Or did they hunt them using a mass capture technology, such as netting?  The way to answer this question is by looking at the demography of the rabbits in question – are there lots of young rabbits, or mostly older ones?  More males or females?  Are there changing patterns through time, and if so, are those patterns statistically significant?

Scouting museum collections for teaching

The Maxwell Museum of Anthropology at the University of New MexicoHad to interrupt the morning identification to head over to the Maxwell Museum.    Every time I head in to the Maxwell I wonder, why don’t I come here more often?  It’s a terrific museum – definitely worth a visit if you’re ever in the Albuquerque area.

I visited the Maxwell this morning to look for a collection for my zooarchaeology class to work with this fall.  I need an assemblage small enough that students can manage it as a part of the class but large enough – and identifiable enough – for students to learn from.  Fortunately there are several options at the Maxwell, and they are well-curated  (not always a given) and so will be easy to work with.  Dave Phillips, curator of archaeology, kindly interrupted his morning to show me some possibilities.

I think we’re going to go with the faunal material from the Tijeras Pueblo archaeological site – there’s plenty of it, there’s good chronological control, and there’s the potential for the students to come up with some interesting research questions.

Coffee and assorted bones

I’m starting off this morning in the lab, cup of coffee by my side, working with some borrowed museum collections.  This picture shows what I’m looking at right now:

Bones from the Navajo project

Photo copyright Emily Jones, 2011

These bones are from a site in northwestern New Mexico; the site was occupied (we estimate) around 1660 A.D., by historic Navajo (or Diné) peoples.  This is just one of a suite of sites I’m examining, all Navajo-affiliated, and all from the 16th and 17th centuries.  Most archaeologists think Athapaskan-speaking Native Americans (including the Navajo) entered the southwestern US in the 15th century, though some argue for earlier or later arrival.  Early on, it seems, the Navajo were mostly hunter-gatherer, maybe with a little agriculture, but at some point they adopted sheepherding with great enthusiasm.  I’m interested in learning about this transition in subsistence, which is why I’m analyzing the zooarchaeological remains from these sites.

So far, I’ve been really impressed with the diversity in subsistence strategy represented.  Many of these sites seem to be evenly split between agriculture, hunting, and gathering of wild resources…and there are a few domestic sheep/goat sneaking in to the record in the 17th century, as well.  Earlier sites seem to have been used for more activities than later ones; it seems like the later sites are more often either hunting-specific or agriculture-specific.  I’ll have to wait to see if this pattern holds up when I get to the statistical analysis!

A Day of Zooarchaeology

My days tend to involve a lot of different projects because, well, I’m involved in a lot of different projects!  So to put my posts in some context, I figured I’d start by introducing myself and the projects that I’m currently working on.

My name is Emily Jones, and I’m a zooarchaeologist – in other words, my specialty is looking at animal bones from archaeological sites to learn about past human-environment interactions.  (You can learn lots more about zooarchaeology at the website for the International Council for Zooarchaeology).  I do go into the field from time to time, but most days I’m either 1) in the lab, identifying animal bones; 2) in the office, doing statistical analyses of the data generated by (1); or 3) in the office, writing up the results of (1) and (2), for technical reports, for scientific publications, or for the public.  Right now, I have two major projects in process: I’m working on the statistical analysis of a collection from Spain (stage 2), deposited about 15,000 years ago, and I’m in stage 1 (that is, identification) on a collection from Navajo-affiliated sites (dating to the 16th and 17th centuries A.D.) here in New Mexico.  I’ll be doing some work on both these projects during the Day of Archaeology!

As well as being a zooarchaeologist, I teach.  In a month, I’ll be teaching a class in introductory zooarchaeological analysis for the University of New Mexico’s Department of Anthropology, here in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA.  And as the time till class begins is getting shorter and shorter, I’ll be working on this as well.

I’ll be posting on the blog, but you can also follow what I’m doing on Twitter (I’ll mark posts with #dayofarch).

Photo copyright Emily Lena Jones, 2011