General Information, Lab Updates, Pathologies

Smitten with the Smithsonian

Dispatches from the field with Dr. Funk and Ariel

Authored By: Shannon Clark ’18 Zooarchaeology Lab Social Media Intern

The success of this trip is attributed not only to the hard work of Dr. Funk and Ariel but to all of the students who have worked in the lab and made it possible to do this extensive bone analysis. The background lab work they accomplished in the 8 months prior to the trip provided a strong basis of fundamental knowledge and research.

The trip to the Smithsonian was incredibly successful for the NSF project as well as for mentoring; because of this experience, Ariel is poised to do her dissertation research. From this experience she has gained ‘how to’ knowledge and capabilities, contacts within the museum, knowledge of the available reference skeletons, and navigational bearings through the dense maze of rooms, libraries, and hallways.

During the four short weeks we were graciously hosted by the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History Birds Division, ZooArch Lab researchers analyzed over 5,000 bones. “We had aggressive goals for the analysis,” said Dr. Funk, “and because the collections of the Birds Division are so well suited to Aleutian avifauna research we were able to analyze specimens from all of the bird families we brought with us.”

Taking full advantage of their opportunity, our researchers were able to attend to some additional projects during their stay. Ariel was able to give attention to her bird bone pathology study and both researchers think they may have identified an extinct cormorant in the prehistoric bird bone collection!

During this research Ariel and Dr. Funk have identified many species that are rare today but were evidently abundant during the occupation of the Margaret Bay site (UNL-048) at about 4700 years ago. Our researchers rented an apartment on Capitol Hill, and they walked to work every day past the Capitol, the Senate offices, and down the Mall. Working on research about environmental change and actually seeing shifts in avifauna species over time in a place where environmental decisions are being legislated renews our researchers’ motivation for this project and reminds us that what we are doing is critically important.





Research Smorgasbord at the Smithsonian

Authored By: Shannon Clark ’18 Zooarchaeology Lab Social Media Intern

The Lab Travels to the Smithsonian!

This month our team members, Dr. Caroline Funk and Ariel Taivalkoski, are traveling to the Smithsonian for species level avifaunal analysis. Analysis will be conducted for the purpose of our NSF funded research (NSF-PLR-1522972; PI: Catherine West, UB PI: Caroline Funk) which aims to provide “test cases” of archaeological adaptations to coastal communities throughout the Arctic facing potentially major climate change.

So far for this project, our lab has been analyzing Holocene Arctic avifaunal remains to family level. Some of these bones have been loaned to us for the NSF project by the Smithsonian and some have been sent to us from NSF site UNL-048 (Margaret Bay 4700BP). In order to take our diagnostic elements to species level, our lab would need hundreds of regionally appropriate skeletons for comparison, a resource that we do not currently possess here in our Buffalo lab. Thankfully, the Smithsonian has many regionally appropriate skeletons due to previous harvesting and skeletonization of birds from Alaska.

For this trip we will take all the bones in our possession to the Smithsonian to compare them with their substantial, regionally appropriate, collection in hopes of bringing our diagnostic elements to species level and précising our research.



General Information, Pathologies

Faunal Pathologies and the Puzzles They Pose

Authored By: Shannon Clark ’18 Zooarchaeology Lab Social Media Intern

Faunal pathologies are the effects of disease or injury on animal bones. The pathologies, or bone deformations, we find on animal bones give us IMG_0023insight into the life path of that animal. Patterns in bone abnormalities, and the contrasts and similarities between them, can inform us about environmental conditions, population health, and human involvement with animals .

In our Zooarchaeology lab, we identify pathologies in animal bones when we analyze the faunal remains excavated from archaeological sites. Some of these pathologies have known origins: injuries for example, result in distinctive anomalous bone growths. Other bone pathologies are more difficult to source.. Understanding these abnormalities involves a great deal of research and investigation, beginning sometimes with what we know about the formation of bone pathologies in humans. Zooarchaeological pathology research often crosses disciplines and involves discussion with veterinarians, veterinary texts research, and researching the results of earlier archaeological faunal analyses.

The study of zooarchaeological abnormalities in birds is complicated by the fact that pathologies sometimes are overlooked. This can happen because of limited time to perform analyses or because the identification of pathologies is not relatable to the research taking place. For whatever reason, there is a lack of avifauna pathology reference material for comparison during zooarchaeological analysis. In our lab, Ariel Taivalkoski is working to first identify, then define the source cause for pathologies.

Her process begins by identifying pathologies on bird bones. She photographs each pathology to create a comparative, visual data set which will later serve as a comparative collection for her work and research in other Zooarchaeology labs. Pathologies reveal secrets of the past that would otherwise remain unknown. As with any scientific research the answer to questions requires patience and determination. Stay tuned into our blog for further posts on the pathologies as we uncover them here in the UB Zooarchaeology Lab.