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

 

 

So We Meat Again: Species and Meat Cut Purchasing Records for Early MSU

During Susan Kooiman and I’s research on the early foodways of MSU’s campus, we scoured our way through a number of purchasing records in the MSU Archives. After Susan’s blog post on the seasonality of food purchased, we realized that it might be interesting to see if there were any patterns of meat purchasing through time! To accomplish this, I reorganized all of our data from the 1861 to 1874 archival records by meat type (i.e. ham, chicken, salt pork, lamb, whitefish, etc.). While we have a few lost years, 1864-1866, I was able to see a few changes through this period of time.

In the beginning, during the early 1860s, the purchasing records were very specific, not only recording that MSU purchased “fresh fish”, but the specific species as well, including trout and whitefish (sometimes even listed as Lake Superior White fish; read more about this here). Through the entire period I analyzed, they also recorded specific cuts of meat, instead of just beef or pork. The types of meat that were listed in detail include bacon, beef shanks, coined beef, beef steak, beef roast, corned beef, shoulder, salt pork, and salt beef.

Cow and Calf in front of a Campus Barn circa 1926. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Cow and Calf in front of a Campus Barn circa 1926. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

While there are no clear patterns of changes in purchasing preferences in these early years, the records became much more difficult to interpret during the late 1860s into the 1870s. During the 1870s, it becomes more vague, sometimes only listing from whom the meat was purchased from and not always including the type of cut or even species! This lack of detail makes it much more difficult to recover any changes in meat purchasing and use over time, meaning that other means of gathering information, such as the bones themselves, will be critical for looking at meat use over time at MSU.

President Abbot circa 1886. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

President Abbot circa 1886. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

While I am unable to uncover any changes in meat use at this time, I did find a few fun entries in the purchasing records as I was compiling the data. The first comes from 1867, citing the specific purchasing of meat from the MSU farms. While it doesn’t say what type of species, it is one of the few accounts that we have come across that specifically cites the purchasing of meat from our very own farms! Second, lists the purchasing of chickens in 1869, not for everyday consumption, but for winter commencement. Commencement would have been one of the larger events held on campus every year, so the college had to buy a lot of food specifically for this event. Lastly, one of my personal favorites, were listings over multiple years for the purchase of steak as well as beef and pork roast, not for the boarding halls, but for President T.C. Abbot. The purchasing records do not list the occasions that the meat was destined for, but from the pounds of meat purchased each month, one may assume that it was purchased for sharing at small functions… unless President Abbot really loved his steak.

 

Resources:

MSU Archives & Historical Collections: Kuhn Collection Volume 91. “Agricultural boarding hall”

MSU Archives & Historical Collections: Kuhn Collection Volume 82. Folder 11, Box 2531. Collection UA17.107. “Cash Account with Boarding Hall”

MSU Archives & Historical Collections: Kuhn Collection Volume 108. Folder 11, Box 2533. Collection UA17.107. “Cash Account With Boarding Hall”

MSU Archives & Historical Collections: Kuhn Collection Volume 32. UA17.107. “Accounts 1867-1873”