Writing About Bones

Although we are zooarchaeologists, not a single archaeological animal bone has passed across our desks this week! Instead we’ve been working on sector support projects. Today we have been working on the Animal Bones and Archaeology Guidelines. This is one of the English Heritage guidelines for best practice in archaeological science, which we will be publishing in 2013. The Guidelines will provide advice about how to ensure that due consideration is given to the information potential, recovery and analysis of animal bones from archaeological projects, from the start of a project to final archiving of animal bones, and publication. It covers general project management, field and laboratory procedures (sampling, assessment, analysis and archiving of animal bones), and general methodological (for example, taxonomic identification or biometry) and specialist taxonomic sections (eg. small mammals and amphibians, bird bones, fish). The specialist sections have been written by colleagues working in a range of universities, and archaeological units, along with some sections we’ve written ourselves. They have all now mostly been submitted and we are beavering away on management and procedural sections. We are planning on holding a preliminary review of the Guidelines at the next PZG (Professional Zooarchaeology Group) meeting planned for Saturday, July 14th, so working hard to get it all pulled together in time!

English Heritage Environmental Archaeology Guidelines Cover

The ‘Animal Bones and Archaeology’ guidelines will be part of the series of English Heritage guidelines for archaeological science.

For us the PZG is one of the highlights of our role within zooarchaeology. It’s an interest group, which we’ve helped coordinate from its inception about seven years ago. It now has about 80 members, all animal bone specialists working in the commercial, academic and public sectors (have a look here if you’d like further information on the group). We meet twice a year to study a particular topic, often taught by members themselves, with anywhere from around 15 to 25 members attending. The meetings consist of seminars and practical hands-on work, short presentations of particular case studies, of work recently completed or in progress by members (employer agreement permitting!), and we also hold a mini taxonomic workshop, during which we review the identification criteria for distinct taxa and run blind tests, just to keep us on our toes!

Photograph of three shetland rams

Shetland rams at Lerwick Market, photographed by Sebastian Payne

We are hosting the forthcoming PZG, so another of today’s tasks was administration and planning for the meeting. Its taxonomic workshop will focus on distinguishing sheep and goats’ bones and teeth – they are more similar than you might think! Over the years, focused studies have identified several criteria, which can tell them apart, so today we have been compiling worksheets which draw together relevant references that we’ll use at the workshop to test out the criteria on some our reference skeletons. In the afternoon of the meeting we’re planning a visit to the Iron Age farm at Butser, where Peter Reynolds originally set up different experiments in Iron Age husbandry.  We’ll have a tour of the structures and activities, and in the evening Butser is also holding the Lughnasa festival.  Who says you can’t combine work and play!