Time to Bone Up: A Faunal Analysis Update

Time to Bone Up: A Faunal Analysis Update

Over the past year, I have been working on identifying the animal (faunal) bone material excavated by the Campus Archaeology Program. Currently, I have been working on bones that were recovered during the Saint’s Rest excavation. Saint’s Rest was the first dormitory on campus, and through CAP excavations, we have been able to learn more about the dorm itself, as well as its associated privy. My goal is to learn about what the students and staff were eating based off of what animal bones were thrown away. I am also comparing my results to the MSU archival records to determine if the bones, and the meat cuts they represent (see my previous blog about this ), align with the historical written record.

Caption: Erica with a cow pelvis. Photo by Kim Brock.
Caption: Erica with a cow pelvis. Photo by Kim Brock.

From my previous faunal analysis of over 1700 fish bones, I determined that at least 17 walleye heads were thrown away in the privy associated with Saint’s Rest. Now that we have learned about the fish remains, I moved onto the remainder of the faunal material recovered from the Saint’s Rest trash pit, located southeast off the building foundation. The fauna that I have been working with comes from excavations that took place in 2008 and 2009, comprising of mostly mammal remains. I have been working on analyzing these materials using the newly established MSU Museum zooarchaeological comparative collection, allowing me to identify the animals bones excavated by CAP.

 

With over three-quarters of the remainder of the collection analyzed so far I would like to report my preliminary results!

MSU Museum zooarchaeological comparative collection being used to identify CAP faunal remains. Image courtesy of Autumn Painter.

Based off of the preliminary analysis, there are at least two individual cows, one individual pig, one possible sheep/goat, and one unidentified large bird! These identifications match what Susan Kooiman and myself have found within the archival records for what the college was purchasing at the time.

In addition to determining what species of animals were being thrown away, I also wanted to determine, if possible, the meat cuts associated with those identified bones. This is a much more complicated task than I originally imagined! First, types of meat cuts that occur change over time and across space, making the exact identification of meat cuts much more difficult than anticipated! Look at the image below; you can see that across England the variation within meat cut name and placement, such as clod vs. thick brisket. Different types of meat cuts go in and out of fashion through time and space, just like the types of shoes or styles of clothing that we wear.

Figures 55-58 from Meat Cuts and Muscle Foods: an international glossary by Howard J. Swatland (page 59).

Now, compare this to the cuts of meat typically found for beef in North America. We use different names as well as cuts.

Figures 153 from Meat Cuts and Muscle Foods: an international glossary by Howard J. Swatland (page 135).

Based on what bones are present thus far in the analysis, it appears that this assemblage contains a large variety of meat cuts, including shank, loin, sirloin, rib, brisket, and chuck. These cuts are from almost all parts of the cow, and several bones including a skull fragment, molar tooth and a phalanx (toe bone) indicate that in fact, they were throwing away bones from head to toe!

While the archival records do not always list what cut of beef was purchased, it occasionally listed beef shank, steak, and roast as specific cuts purchased between 1861-1863. The archaeological record and archival record are two lines of evidence that are giving us insight into the food consumption and deposition practices of early MSU students and staff.

Stay tuned for the final update on the analysis of the Saint’s Rest trash pit animal bone analysis!

 

Resources:

Meat Cuts and muscle foods: an international glossary by Howard J. Swatland [2000].

The Meat Book: A consumer’s guide to selecting, buying, cutting, storing, freezing, & carving the various cuts by Travers Moncure Evans and David Greene [1973].

MSU Archives

 

 



2 thoughts on “Time to Bone Up: A Faunal Analysis Update”

  • It was interesting what you said about you found walleye. Have you ever found walleye before? I’m wondering where they caught locally in the red cedar or the Grand River or purchased.

  • This is the first instance of IDing walleye on campus, but I have identified walleye before in other archaeological contexts (here is one of my blog posts on the campus walleye). As walleye are the largest member of the perch family and can be caught in shallow bays and inland lakes, it’s possible that the students or staff caught them. Also, we have not come across any record that MSU purchased walleye during this time!

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