Guest blog by Heather Calderwood, Archaeology Collections Intern
Hello! For the past week I have been working on Faunal Analysis, identifying the kinds of animal remains found at a site. From this information, archaeologists can tell the environment around the site, what the people ate, and where and sometimes how they obtained their food.
Today I have been sorting through levels of Midden collected some 60 years or so ago. Unsorted, the midden looks like a daunting pile of unrecognizable pieces. After some tutelage from Kelley Esh, I’ve learned to differentiate between fish bone, bird bone, rat bone, and other miscellaneous parts of teeth and jaws, (my favorite to find) which I have grown partial to calling “toothy bits”. Fish bone is easy to differentiate from bird bone. Fish bone has a pulled look to it, and bird bone is light and hollow.
I have also been able to recognize a part of the inner ear of a fish formally called the otolith. It is small, and to the untrained eye can be mistaken for shell or fish scale.
The inescapable relationship of dealing with anything from the past is imagining its story.
I’ve learned through all the hours of sorting and faunal analysis that the organic piles of midden samples, collected and sorted were thrown away. The situational relationship of this struck me as particularly interesting. If you imagine the size of the pile, its amount, and its contents, you can learn a lot about a person or a community. Would a small family’s midden look different from a large community? And in what way? Would we be able to recognize it if found?
Today I have worked on two samples from two proveniences. One sample was fuller of fish scales, and the other fuller of fish bone. How is this to be interpreted?
In a few thousand years from now, I’m confident that we in the present, will leave much larger, and conundrum inducing, piles (landfills) of midden behind us.