CSI: Archaeology Edition
What if you’re excavating a site, and you find artifacts that seem somewhat fishy? What happens when you have a large imagination and there is nothing to do but postulate ideas of what each artifact tells you, no matter how strange? And what happens when, after digging for a week in one small two meter by two meter box, you find even more artifacts that, if you make your hypothesis a tall story, could make sense?
Welcome to Campus Archaeology.
Here in Test Pit 8, we’ve recently found some reddish human hair, which was a lucky find, and something totally unimaginable before it was there. This added to our way crazy hypothesis that someone was murdered directly in our pit and we would find their remains. Then we found the bone.
The first thing you do is identify where the bone comes from in the body, which stops you from deciding what species it is before you can even tell. Around the same time we found the human hair, bones started popping up everywhere; an ilium here, a rib there, until before we knew it we were digging up four or five bones as well as the numerous bricks. It was so exciting to see something besides brick or dirt that I automatically leapt to the conclusion that a giant with red hair was murdered in our pit and we were finding his remains (at least, that was the wild fantasy.)
It turns out that once we distinguished the bones as what they were, and were able to put a species on them, that we found that all of the bones had come from juvenile cows that the old college residents may have butchered for food.
We could tell that the age of the cow (of the pelvis at least) was juvenile, because the ilium hadn’t fused yet. We could also see the saw marks and distinguish it as having been sawn by a hand saw, commonly in use in the 19th century. The reason we knew they weren’t the remains of a giant is that the shape of the pelvis is far more elongated in a cow, and the rib bones are flatter and broader.
Below is a picture of the ilium we found while excavating our unit:
This is a picture of a human pelvis (left) and a cow pelvis (right) so that one can see the difference between the two of them.
You can find this picture and other comparison pictures Comparative Skeletal Anatomy: A Photographic Atlas for Medical Examiners, Coroners, Forensic Anthropologists, and Archaeologists by BJ Adams and PJ Crabtree (2008).
Adams, B.J. and P.J. Crabtree. 2008. Comparative Skeletal Anatomy: A Photographic Atlas for Medical Examiners, Coroners, Forensic Anthropologists, and Archaeologists. Humana Press: Totowa, NJ.
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