General Information, Lab Updates

“I shall kill no albatross”

Dispatches from the field with Ariel

This month I am conducting research at the Museum of the North for my dissertation. At the Museum, I am examining several bird assemblages that were excavated and analyzed during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. All of these assemblages are from Amchitka island, which is the southernmost of the Rat Islands group in the Aleutian Islands.

As these collections were previously analyzed, my work here focuses on checking to make sure that the prior taxonomic ids were correct and seeing if there were any cut marks, burning, or pathologies that may have been missed in the prior analysis.

So far, there have been some interesting results!

One of the most interesting bones I’ve looked at was this albatross humerus that was COVERED in cut marks. Normally when we see cut marks on bird bones from the Aleutians there are only a a few present. As you can see there are cut marks all up and down the shaft of the bone. Was somebody practicing their cutting techniques? Were they removing feathers from the wing? Was the knife not sharp enough?

Albatross humerus with cut marks

Also in the albatross assemblage, I found this skull that has been burned. Part of the burned area is missing (it was likely lost either while it was sitting in the ground for several thousand years or post-excavation).


Ultimately, what caused each individual cut mark or burned bone has been lost to time, but by analyzing these collections as a whole, I will be able to piece together how each species was being exploited.

This research was made possible by NSF Dissertation Research Improvement Grant #1853169 (P.I. Chevral/co-PI Taivalkoski).

Lab Updates

Avifamily Analysis Begins!

Author: Ariel Taivalkoski, MA, Zooarchaeology Lab Manager

*This avifauna analysis project is supported by the NSF Polar Programs award “Archaeological and Paleoenvironmental Perspectives of Climate Change in the Aleutian Islands” (PLR-1522972: C. West PI, C. Funk UB subaward PI)*

Our reference skeletons have arrived from the Smithsonian Institution. We spent the past couple of weeks rearranging the lab in preparation for our family level analysis, developing the family analysis procedure, and finishing pulling all the elements we will be analyzing from the archaeological assemblage.

Reference skeletons waiting to be deployed

We have two archaeological sites that are being analyzed. There were ~55,000 bird bones found at these two sites. Since it would takes us YEARS to analyze this many bones to the lowest taxonomic level, even with the great team we have, we selected the most diagnostic elements to analyze. We determined that the humerus (arm bone), coracoid (what would be a human collar bone), tarsometatarsus (what would be a human ankle bone) and the skull would be the elements easiest to take to the species level. This narrowed our elements that need to be identified to a total of 14,660.

Archaeological bones waiting to be identified to family

Now the real fun begins. We will be using the reference skeletons from the Smithsonian to identify the archaeological bones to the family level, if possible. After the family level analysis is complete, Dr. Funk and I will be traveling to the Smithsonian with the archaeological specimens. We will use the extensive Smithsonian collections to identify the bones to the species level. Since the bones will already be identified to family, the species level analysis will be easier and quicker.

An example of our archaeological bones identified to the family level


Project Chicken

Project Chicken Update

Author: C. Funk | May 29, 2015

The Zooarch Group performed Project Chicken Experiment 3 on April 26, 2015 . The chicken bones went immediately into the dermestid tank and they are cleaned and ready for analysis. We are noting butchery cut mark patterns, burning, and chewing of bones, but the study is focused on the packets of bones produced by individuals selecting, eating, and discarding portions of the cooked chickens.

Chicken 6: butchered.
Chicken 6: butchered.
Project Chicken prep
Chicken 5 minimally butchered.
Experiement 3 called for cooking over open coals and flame.
Experiement 3 called for cooking over open coals and flame.
Washing the Project Chicken bones after processing in the dermestid colony.
Washing the Project Chicken bones after processing in the dermestid colony.
Analyzing the Project Chicken bone packages.
Analyzing the Project Chicken bone packages.