This summer was an eventful one for the Campus Archaeology Program field crew! We monitored construction, conducted several pedestrian and shovel test surveys, excavated one test unit, conducted lab analysis, and helped with the IB STEM archaeology camp and grandparents university. Plus, we uncovered an …
As you may know from my previous blog posts, I have been working on analyzing the faunal remains from Campus Archaeology excavations. My current research project focuses on the Saints’ Rest trash midden, excavated in several seasons by CAP near the location where Saints’ Rest …
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.
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!
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.
Now, compare this to the cuts of meat typically found for beef in North America. We use different names as well as cuts.
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!
Meat Cuts and muscle foods: an international glossary by Howard J. Swatland .
The Meat Book: A consumer’s guide to selecting, buying, cutting, storing, freezing, & carving the various cuts by Travers Moncure Evans and David Greene .
The analysis of animal bones from historic MSU involves more than the identification of species. While it is important to determine the species that were being consumed, we are also very interested in the specific portions of animals that were being purchased and produced by …
What is zooarchaeology and how is it actually done? This is a question that I get a lot when I talk about my research. Zooarchaeology is the study of non-human animal remains; specifically this involves the identification of animal species from archaeological contexts. However, it’s …
Analyzing and interpreting past food practices has always been one of my passions. This year for CAP, I will be working with Susan Kooiman to explore and recreate the food environment during the Early Period of MSU’s campus (1855-1870), as explained in Susan’s previous blog post. While Susan will take on more of the background research of this period, I am going to delve into the animal bones uncovered through Campus Archaeology excavations. I began my training as a zooarchaeologist while earning my Master’s degree at Illinois State University. Most of my experience has been with prehistoric animal remains and I am very excited to work with the animal bones recovered from Campus to better understand food production, preparation, serving, and consumption at Michigan State!
I will first begin by sorting the animal bones by animal class: mammal, bird, fish, and reptile/amphibian. After this initial sorting I will use a osteological comparative collection to conduct my identifications. From previous initial zooarchaeological analysis, we know that there are many different butchering marks present on many of the mammal remains. This will be one of my focuses during analysis. I hope to be able to determine what types of cuts of meat were being produced on campus, or if there were students learning butchering practices.
In addition to conducting a faunal analysis on the remains from the privy and Saints Rest excavations, I will be working on creating a website for this project. While we are in the initial stages of the project, we are working on formulating how we want to portray this project online. Currently, we would like to highlight the various aspects of food practices at MSU during this period including cooking, sustainability, production, ceramics, animal bone analysis, and food reconstruction. In addition to discussing our results from this project, we will also be documenting each step of our research. Our hope is to create videos showing how we learn about MSU’s history, from searching through archival records, visiting with MSU’s farms, to animal bone analysis. I can’t wait to see where this project takes us!
If you missed my poster two weeks ago at the Midwest Historical Archaeology Conference hosted at MSU, I’m also going to share my research here on the CAP blog. The poster, entitled “What’s for Supper? Food preferences and availability at the Agricultural College of the …
Thinking about sustainability, particularly in a historical context, is a complicated task. I knew little about sustainability before starting this project, but the idea was nevertheless enticing, and I began researching the meaning of the term. Definitions are numerous and multifaceted and most are not …
With any archaeological assemblage, excavation is only a small part of the research process. Preliminary care and identification in the field is not designed to hold up for long-term storage and analysis. You may remember my previous post about the faunal identification process, which was based on a teachable moment in the field. Since then, I have inherited the CAP faunal collection from Saints’ Rest to use as data for my historic sustainability project. Management and analysis of a zooarchaeological collection such as this has been a great love of mine since my first experience with it in college.
Step 1: Washing. Once the bones are out of the ground, they’re muddy, wet, broken, and frequently full of small roots or salt deposits. Washing them typically involves a plastic basin under a lab sink faucet and a used toothbrush. The irony of scrubbing pig teeth in this manner is never lost. Bones are tough, so a good hard scrub is usually in order, otherwise it can be difficult to see small modifications. Drying can take up to a week.
Step 2: Identification. I like to start by creating a chart of things I want to know, such as bag number, element, species, age, and types of butchery that can been seen on the bone. The data from the chart can be entered into a more comprehensive artifact database later. Butchery and tooth wear forms are also useful. Sources tend to be spread thinly, especially for historical archaeologists, but I never leave home without Schmid’s Atlas of
Animal Bones. While it is not strictly necessary to reconstruct individual bones, it can be helpful for identification purposes to glue pieces together that were obviously broken after ending up the in trash heap or during excavation. Having been trained on ancient Near Eastern materials, I sometimes have trouble with the convoluted butchery methods that saws made common in the historic period. Comparing the problem bone to known elements is very helpful. Noting modifications is extremely important, because these give us information about human behavior.
Step 3: Documentation and statistics. Entering as much data as possible into the chart makes seeing patterns easier. Drawing butchered bones with every little modification mark can be tedious, but worth the time to make the information more easily accessible. When the chart is complete, you have a whole mess of numbers and little idea of how many animals are represented by the assemblage. This stage is where MNI (Minimum Number of Individuals) and NISP (Number of Identified Specimens) become the zooarchaeologist’s best friends. Both calculations are necessary to get a range of possible animals divided however you choose, with MNI as the low figure and NISP as the high.
Step 4: Care. Usually faunal food remains can be put into archival bags or set on shelves without much hassle if the environment is stable. When they do break during excavation or handling (they are also known to explode during washing) gluing with a stable, clear adhesive compound is an option. For particularly delicate pieces gluing is sometimes necessary to prevent further damage.
When considering food as a topic of archaeological research, one of the biggest obstacles is how. Food remains are often difficult to find—they rot quickly, scavengers carry them away, and such essential practices as eating are often not mentioned in historical documents. Despite the odds …