Category Archives: Archaeology

Buried Dogs were divine ‘escorts’ for ancient Americans

Hundreds of prehistoric dogs found buried throughout the south-western United States show that canines played a key role in the spiritual beliefs of ancient Americans, new research suggests. Throughout the region, dogs have been found buried with jewellery, alongside adults and children, carefully stacked in groups, or in positions that relate to important structures, said Dody Fugate, an assistant curator at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Fugate has conducted an ongoing survey of known dog burials in the area, and the findings suggest that the animals figured more prominently in their owners’ lives than simply as pets, she said.

“I’m suggesting that the dogs in the New World in the Southwest were used to escort people into the next world, and sometimes they were used in certain rituals in place of people,” Fugate said.

To conduct her research, Fugate collected data on known dog burials and urged her archaeologist colleagues to note when canine remains were found during excavations. “I have a database now of almost 700 dog burials, and a large number of them are either buried in groups in places of ritual or they’re buried with individual human beings,” she said. Many of the burials are concentrated in northwestern New Mexico and along the Arizona-New Mexico border, she said.

Fugate’s database indicates that dog burials were most common between 400 BCE and 1100 CE. “The earlier the [human] burial, the more likely you are to have dog in it,” Fugate said. By the 1400s and 1500s the practice of burying people with dogs had stopped. Indeed, she noted, today’s Pueblo and Navajo Indians believe it is improper to bury dogs. What the ancient dogs looked like is an open question, she said, but their remains suggest that they were far more diverse than was previously believed.

Susan Crockford is a zooarchaeologist at Canada’s University of Victoria who has studied dog breeds in the Pacific Northwest. She agreed that dog remains have often been overlooked during archaeological excavations. Archaeologists tend to examine animal bones at excavation sites with an eye to what humans were eating, rather than what their relationships with dogs were like, she said. Crockford suggested that dogs’ spiritual role was among their most important functions in the region, second perhaps to their value as hunting or herding companions.

Source: National Geographic News

Refutation of Hobbit Filling Claim

And as a follow-up to the last piece of news about the ‘Hobbit’: Peter Brown refutes Flores filling claim.

Blog Carnival – Four Stone Hearth #39

The 39th edition of the Four Stone Hearth blog carnival can now be found over at Hominin Dental Anthropology. It’s full of the usual anthropological and archaeological goodness, so go and check it out.

The Boneyard – Edition #18

Welcome to the 18th edition of the Boneyard, the blog carnival devoted to all things palaeo, from dinosaurs to pollen to hominids and everywhere in between.

We begin this latest edition in the Middle Palaeolithic with Julien Riel-Salvatore of ‘A Very Remote Period Indeed’ who discusses the interpretation of a new isotopic study of Neanderthal diet, based on material from a Neanderthal tooth from the French Middle Paleolitihic site of Jonzac.

A little further back time, we find Tim Jones at ‘Remote Central‘ discussing Pre-Clovis Humans in the Oregon High Desert, whilst at the same blog Terry Toohill puts ‘Human Evolution on Trial – North to Alaska’.. Meanwhile, here at Archaeozoology, we examine the later evolution of Pleistocene Horses in the New World.

We move into the Tertiary period with Emile of ‘The World We Don’t Live In‘ who discusses The oreodonts: the tylopods successful venture. Meanwhile, Brian Switek at ‘Laelaps‘ describes the ‘Truly Terrifying Entelodonts’ of the Early Miocene and Oligocene. In the same blog we also find a tale of another fearsome predator, this time of the middle Eocene: the Bad Cat from Wyoming, the largest meat-eating mammal from what would become the Wind River Formation.

Travelling back into the Mesozoic, we have two blogs about the ever-popular topic of dinosaurs. Darren Naish of ‘Tetrapod Zoology‘ talks about the land ‘Where the scelidosaurs and iguanodontians roam’, whilst GrrlScientist at ‘Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)‘ reviews ‘What Bugged the Dinosaurs? Insects, Disease and Death in the Cretaceous’ by George Poinar, Jr., and Roberta Poinar.

David Hone of ‘Archosaur Musings‘ brings us a series of three posts on the Early Triassic pterosaur Raeticodactylus filisurensis: part one describes the pterosaur, part two introduces Rico Stecher, the man behind Raeticodactylus, and part three is an interview with Rico about his work. Also from the Triassic comes the story of enigmatic hellasaurs, some of the most important insect fossils in the world from the Madygen Formation of Kyrgyzstan, courtesy of ‘microecos‘.

Reaching the Permo-Triassic boundary we find Peter Ward discussing ‘Suspending Life’ in Seed magazine; If almost every species on Earth was killed some 250 million years ago, how did our ancient ancestors survive and evolve into us?

We take a look at ancient plant-life with Christopher Taylor of ‘Catalogue of Organisms‘ as he tells us about Prototaxites, one of the Giants of the Silurian.

Dinochick, meanwhile, brings us more proof that only money speaks in a discussion of the recent news about fossils for sale.

We finish on a lighter note with Zach of ‘When Pigs Fly Returns‘ and Spinodracus dysonii, the porcupine dragon.

Thanks go to everyone who contributed to this edition of the Boneyard. The next edition will be hosted by Familiarity Breeds Content on May 3rd.

The Hobbit Saga Continues…

John Hawks discusses the latest development in the on-going saga of the Hobbit in ‘Was Homo floresiensis the tooth fairy?

Blog Carnival – Four Stone Hearth #38

Volume 38 of the Four Stone Hearth Blog Carnival is now up for your perusal at ‘A Very Remote Period Indeed‘.

Horse Hunting in Magdalenian France

The site of Roche de Solutre is one of a series of ridges or cuestas in the southern part of the Maconnais region of Burgundy, France. The cuestas are oriented from east to west and are separated by broad valleys with minor streams. The archaeological site at Solutre is located at the base of the southern face of the Roche de Solutre.

The discoverer and first investigator of the site, Adrien Arcelin, tried to explain the mass of horse bones revealed during the 19th century excavations by describing Palaeolithic hunters driving herds of up to 600 animals at a time over the edge of the rock. This concept of Solutre as a ‘horse-jump’ site found favour in the late 1800s and was upheld even as late as the 1950s. However, in 1956 Jean Combier re-interpreted Solutre as a place to which hunters periodically returned to kill horses which were passing through the valley during their seasonal migrations.

At the beginning of the 1990s, the interpretations could be summarised as follows:

  • the site was used almost exclusively as a kill-site, at which horses were the most frequently hunted species of large game, but where reindeer and bison were also occasionally taken.
  • small bands of between 6 to 12 horses were intercepted in the valley below Solutre rock and either driven up against the base of the rock and slaughtered there or chased into a corral-like enclosure and killed.

A low proportion of juvenile horses were interpreted as the result of selective killing of adults and releasing of the young. The vast number of individual horses, many articulated remains, the scarcity of butchery evidence and the lack of evidence of transportation of skeletal elements away from the sites suggested that large numbers of horses were killed at any one time and that their intact carcasses were not fully exploited. The minimal butchery may reflect the way in which the horses were hunted. It is suggested that the horses were ambushed as they followed a migratory trail. Hunters would have killed as many horses as possible before the herd panicked and took flight. This method would have produced many carcasses, from which perhaps only a few were selected for further processing. Reindeer, on the other hand, showed more intensive evidence of butchery, indicative of full utilisation of their carcasses.

Examination of the cementum bands of the teeth showed that the horses died at Solutre from spring through to autumn (February to September), with the greatest concentration occurring in summer. Reindeer, on the other hand, were hunted in winter and spring.

Although death of perhaps one or two of the horses at the site due to natural causes cannot be ruled out, the location of the site precludes mass deaths of herds as observed at river crossings, deaths at waterholes or death due to bogging in quagmires. The bulk of the horse remains are therefore interpreted as resulting primarily from the hunting activities of the Magdalenian population. However, carnivores also utilised the carcasses extensively and were probably responsible for the destruction of some elements, e.g. the sacrum. This is interpreted as the opportunistic scavenging of the remains of animals killed by Magdalenian hunters, although the intensive gnawing means that the possibility of some carcasses by carnivore kills cannot be ruled out.

Reference: Turner, E. 2005. Results of a recent analysis of horse remains dating to the Magdalenian period at Solutre, France, pp 70-89. In Mashkour, M (ed.). Equids in Time and Space. Oxford: Oxbow.

A trephinated skull from Germany

A review of new research is presented in Nature Precedings regarding a skull radiocarbon dated to 1940 calBC (late Neolithic – early Bronze Age) from Germany, which exhibits signs of trephination.

The authors say:

The skull fragment includes large parts of the cranial vault including both frontal bones down to the left orbital rim, the right parietal, and both occipital regions. The whole cranial base as well as the facial bones and the left temporal regions are missing. It is the only part left of the original skeleton of an adult male. The skull fragment shows two manipulations: In the left frontal-region one notes a hole with a diameter of 30 x 25 mm which results from a funnel-shaped trephination with the outer size of 53 x 50 mm. The diameter of the rim varies from 10 ­ 12 mm. The diploe of the bone is not visible which means that the trephination must have been survived for a longer period of time. The configuration of the defect and the angulation of its edge indicate that the trephination was performed by the scraping-technique. A second defect involves the left occipital region partially crossing the lambdoid suture. It consists of two small and one larger skull fragments which have grown together forming a typical consolidated depressed skull fracture. The depth of the defect is approximately 10 mm at its maximum. Its diameter measures 35 x 24 mm.

They speculate that the individual received two simulataneous injuries, one of which was trephined whilst the second healed without medical intervention. However, as they note, two chronologically differing traumatic incidents are possible of which only one was severe enough to be in need of surgical measures. Alternatively, the intact skull may have been trephined in the left frontal region because of the temporo-occipital injury to prevent complications, e.g. a suspected haematoma under a local bruise of the skin.

Reference: Piek, Juergen, Lidke, Gundula, and Terberger, Thomas. Ancient Trephinations in Neolithic People – Evidence for Stone Age Neurosurgery?. Available from Nature Precedings <http://hdl.handle.net/10101/npre.2008.1615.1&gt; (2008)

House Mouse: a commensal species

Although numerous sub-species of house mouse exist, only one is found wild in mainland Britain (Mus musculus domesticus). Since these sub-species cannot be readily differentiated in archaeological material, in this paper (Dobney and Harwood, 1999) the house mouse is simply considered as Mus musculus.

The genus Mus lived originally in the steppes of Central Asia where it is thought to have used rock crevices for shelter, thus pre-adapting it to a commensal existence in and around areas of human habitation. This is supported by evidence from modern populations such as that on the island of Skokholm where it shelters on cliffs in early spring.

On the basis of the fossil record, the house mouse is thought to have been present in England since the Iron Age at the latest. It appears to be competitively inferior to the two native British species of mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus and Apodemus flavicollis) in open farmland and woodland. It is, therefore, principally a commensal, living in and around buildings.

There is no evidence for the presence of the house mouse in the North of England prior to the arrival of the Romans, although this may be a result of the paucity of Iron Age occupation sites that have been excavated in the region and the lack of systematic sieving. The species does, however, appear to have been common in York throughout the Roman and Anglian periods. Outside this urban centre, there are only two records prior to the medieval period: one at the Roman fort of South Shields and one from Carlisle.

Reference: Dobney, K and Harwood, J. 1999. Here to stay? Archaeological evidence for the introduction of commensal and economically important mammals to the North of England, pp 373-387 in Benecke, N (ed.). The Holocene History of the European Vertebrate Fauna. Verlag Marie Leidorf GmbH: Rahden/Westf.

Reindeer Body Part Representation

There is an interesting review at ‘Anthrosite‘ about reindeer body part representation at Grotte XVI in France.