Daily Archives: February 24, 2009

Bird and fish bones – methods and seasonality

At February 14th 2009 the (Swedish) Osteological Association held their annual symposium/work shop in cooperation with Osteoarchaeological Research Laboratory (OFL), Stockholm University, under the title; “Bird and fish bones – methods and seasonality”.

As always, I might say, Seminaret held as always high quality with good speakers and an interesting theme;

Carina Olson (PhD), Osteoarchaeological Research Laboratory Stockholm University. “Tolkning av fiskben från arkeologiska lokaler”. (Interpretation of fish from archaeological premises).

Inge Bødker Enghoff (PhD), Natural History Museum of Denmark (Zoological Museum), University of Copenhagen. “Archaeoichthyology: Size estimates and repesentation of skeletal elements”.

Kristiina Mannermaa (PhD), University of Helsinki, “Bird bones in graves at Yuzhniy Oleniy ostrov (Russian Karelia)”.

Bødker Enghoff Carina Olson Kristiina Mannermaa

Inge Bødker Enghoff, Carina Olson & Kristiina Mannermaa

First out is Carina who talks about the importance of the right archaeological field methodology and what different field strategies might result in. And with this she sets the theme of the day. In her dissertation Stone Age fisheries in the Baltic sea – Subsistence, marine environment and lifeways of Neolithic people along the east coast of middle Sweden, Gotland and Åland (2008) Carina presents several interesting and new finds many of them due to different test of methodology; different sieve sizes, resieving and sieving of samples in the laboratory. Among the finds are herring in contexts they previously not have been found. She also discussed methods for size and weight estimations of cod and methods of estimate seasonality. Overall an interesting lecture, by the way her dissertation is a must read if you’re interested in fish osteology in general or the Neolithic fauna in the Baltic Sea.

It’s never easy to follow a good lecture but Inge Bødker Enghoff did a good job. She painted a general picture of the Stone Age sites of Denmark using fish as the common denominator. Using different examples she discussed methods on length estimation and what it can tell about fishing methods and seasonality, e.g. the importance of knowing the fish life history. She also talked about the importance of field methods to the result, without the fine sieves we’re bound to miss whole species witch can make us misinterpret the material. Example of fishes that we might miss is eel, herring and smelt.

Kristiina Mannermaa was the last woman out and here we changed from fish to bird, but field methodology is still central for the interpretation. Mannermaa talked about a Russian material from Yuzhniy Oleniy Ostrov in Karelia. This is the largest known Mesolithic cemetery in northern Europe, dated to ca 7500 BP. The graves were investigated in 1937-38, in the end at the brink of war which makes it important to know when the grave was excavated; some graves were documented in a bit of a rush. The skeletal material is well preserved and includes both human skeletal remains and a variety of grave goods such as animal bones, both unmodified and in the form of artefacts. Mannermaa has been successful in refinding the bird bones found in the graves, unfortunately many of the bones are no longer possible to match to what grave they were found in. The most common bird species in the cemetery was the osprey (Pandion haliaetus). By studying the location of bird bones in burials as well as the distribution of anatomical elements, it is possible to interpret the roles of birds in the burial practices but also the behaviour and ecology of these species.

After the lectures the work shop started, it had three stops;

Table one regarded Bird bones and was held by Kristiina Mannermaa. Among other things she described problem bones and pressed on the importance of a good reference collection and of allowing the estimation to take it’s time.

An interesting thing she put forward was the likeness of the femur of Crane (Grus grus) and Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus). Now these bones are uncunningly alike even though the birds themselves are not.


Crane (top) and Capercaillie


Crane vs. Capercaillie

There are of course differences but you must know to look for them in the first place. It’s a bit of an eye opener; I guess that I might very well have been satisfied just looking at one of them.

At the second desk stood Carina Olson and described the method of measuring otholits and allowing us to study them closer, both via microscope and by measuring instruments.

At third and final table Inge Bødker Enghoff showed us how to separate the first four cod vertebras.

All in all a really good day, filled with interesting lectures, a good work shop and last but not least the possibility to reconnect with friends and colleagues through Osteology.

Next year it’s my turn to make sure that we manage to make yet another good da capo. I’m not worried though as I have a fine board helping me out this year.


Magnus Reuterdahl

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