For the past three days I've been doing a short course in Zooarchaeology at Sheffield. The Sheffield lab is one of the best places in the UK, and probably Europe, for animal bone research, and I was amazed at the extent of their reference collections. An absolutely fantastic resource. Although I have spent many years working with zooarchaeologists, and have a basic understanding of the subject, I've never worked directly with this material myself. As I am now responsible for the Wolfson Laboratory at Newcastle, and therefore our animal bone reference collection, I figured I should learn a bit more about them! It was very interesting to hear about a lot of research themes that I am interested in from the perspective another specialism. Taphonomy for example is something that I deal with myself a lot in the analysis of environmental samples, and it was very informative to hear how other people approach this topic.
Whilst a lot of zooarchaeology focuses on the relationships between people and animals in the past, there are some aspects that are relevant for environmental archaeology. Smaller animals such as amphibians for example can have very narrow ecological tolerances, so their presence at a site can tell us something about the local environment in the past, or the types of environment that people were exploiting. Others such as wild birds may have very seasonal behavior, such as migration, and can be used to infer seasonality at a site. These are topics that we already cover in my second year Environmental Archaeology module, and I am hoping to incorporate the animal bone perspective. Previously I have focused very heavily on plant remains and soil, as that is my main area of expertise. It will be good to include a bit more on animal bones, particularly how we can integrate these different strands of data to get a better picture of the past environment.