by Sheila Koons – Lab Archaeologist & Lithic Specialist
Much of our recent lab work has been focused on cataloging the artifacts from the Ash Grove meat house. As one might expect, a great deal of bone was recovered by our field crew (in addition to ceramic, glass, metal, and some lithics). Some of the bone has butcher marks and some has been gnawed by rodents. Interestingly, a high percentage of the bone is fish bone, particularly fish skull elements. I say interestingly because fish remains are small and fragile. They are typically lost during conventional excavation and recovery processes. According to Olsen, “Even when fish bones are present, excepting vertebrae, their form and structure are such that they can be easily overlooked or assumed to be fragments of bones of larger animals” (1968:3). Our current recovery methods have offered us a unique opportunity to study these artifacts. I am truly amazed that the spines on the vertebrae have survived perhaps two centuries, so great job to our field crew and our dedicated group of volunteers in the lab!
In order to determine the types of fish species found at Ash Grove, we are getting some help from a group of ichthyologists at the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum. Ichthyology is the study of fish and so we are hoping these scientists can help us figure out what sort of fish the residents of Ash Grove were eating. The fish skull bones from Ash Grove are very similar in size and shape so it is quite possible that there was a dietary preference for a particular type of fish or perhaps a restrictive diet based on the species of fish that were readily available in the area. As our investigations progress and our collaborations increase, the dietary preferences of the inhabitants at Ash Grove will become more apparent.
Olsen, Stanley J. (1968). Fish, Amphibian and Reptile Remains from Archaeological Sites. Part 1. Southeastern and Southwestern United States Appendix. The Osteology of the Wild Turkey. 3-12.
Reitz, E.J and E.S. Wing 1999. Zooarchaeology. Cambridge University Press.