The Insights of Zooarchaeology

Figure 1: Excavation of dog burial. Photo by Del Baston.

            Archaeology has been defined as the study of past societies through the remains of their artifacts (Renfrew and Bahn 2018). While many perceive archaeology as one way of discovery and analysis applied to different ancient societies and cultures, there is actually many specialties within the field that help give insight. One unique example of this is zooarchaeology which is defined as the study of non-human animal remains within the context of past societies and cultures (Painter 2016). Past animal remains can give a lot of insight into the environment that humans lived in and more importantly how they utilized it.

            One interesting study performed by researchers at Binghamton University used the trading of venison to better understand interactions between English Colonists and Native Americans in Virginia’s Potomac River Valley in the late 1600s (Hatch 2012). To begin this investigation, Doctor Hatch performed an excavation at a location referred to as the Hallowes Site. The Hallowes site is located around the delta of the Potomac River on the border of Virginia and Maryland. At this location, Doctor Hatch was able to find artifacts and skeletal remains of deer. Through analysis of the remains, it was found that deer forequarters and hindquarters were found in the highest frequency. One artifact of importance was identified to be a bone awl (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Bone awl recovered at the Hallowes Site. Photo by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

From this evidence and historical records, it was postulated that this location was used for processing the hunted deer for the parts that would be traded to the colonists. This was supported by there being a very high frequency of certain skeletal remains. Also, the identification of Native American tools confirmed that the site was used by the tribes of this area. One question that was created from this investigation was what happened to the rest of the deer that was not left at this location? Archaeologists thought that the heads were kept by the Native Americans due to the importance of the brains for the hide-tanning process. By keeping the parts of the animals that the colonists did not want to buy, the Native Americans were able to use the skin and brain to create leather and produce a product for them to sell and use for themselves. This study represents one aspect of how zooarchaeology can be used to better comprehend a part of the past.

            Zooarchaeology is just one example of the many specialties within archaeology that allows for different perspectives to be seen and ultimately give a clearer image of the past. With the development of new technology and information being learned, the field of archaeology and the specialties within it are constantly growing and improving.

Links of interest:


Hatch, D. Brad. 2012. “Venison Trade and Interaction between English Colonists and.

            Native Americans in Virginia’s Potomac River Valley.” Northeast Historical

            Archaeology 41 (1): 18–49.

Painter, Autumn. 2016. “Zooarchaeology: The Study of Animal Bones and How It Is

            Done.” MSU Campus Archaeology Program (blog). November 29, 2016.


Renfrew, Colin, and Paul G. Bahn. 2018. Archaeology Essentials: Theories, Methods,

           Practice with 303 Illustrations. Fourth edition. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd.

Experimental archaeology and its uses

Figure 1: Metal working in the Museo Archeologico Etnologico in Modena. Photo by Andrea Moretti.

            Experimental archaeology is defined as a sub-field of archaeology research that uses many strategies to imitate past events and attempt to better understand what happened (Paardekooper 2019). While experimental archaeology does have its limits in not working with real artifacts, it does have the unique advantage of attempting to repeat the processes that occurred in the past and gain knowledge through data and experience.

            Traditionally, this sub-field was one of the aspects of archaeology that is conducted scientifically by developing a hypothesis, conducting an experiment, and then analyzing the data to come to a conclusion. However, experimental archaeology has grown and taken on many forms now, such as being used as an outreach program. For example, researchers at the Stonehenge Visitor Center replicated a possible version of the creation of Stonehenge using wooden logs, ropes, simple mechanics, and community participation (Archaeology 2018) (Figure 2). Through this experiment, more questions about the creation of Stonehenge were developed, such as what were the environmental conditions when it was built? Researchers speculated that it could have been done when the ground was dry and hard, or the people may have dug the topsoil off to reach the hard and compact dirt. These hands-on experiences help inform the public of the importance of archaeology, while also bringing forth new research questions.

Figure 2: Imitating possible strategy for moving stones at Stonehenge Visitor Center. Photo by the English Heritage.

            Another example of experimental archaeology is the Butser Ancient Farm. The goal of this site is to study the agricultural and economic aspects of England during the period of 400 BC to 400 AD (Stone and Planel 1999). To better understand this topic, specific research programs cover different topics, such as experimental earthwork. Experimental earthwork is the study of replicating structures made from soil such as ditches, banks, and canals (Shaw 2007). In this specific study, a set of ditches and banks were recreated to see how they were effected by environmental conditions over intervals of four, seven, and ten years (Shaw 2007). Through this type of study, researchers can further understand how different layers of soil erode and settle over time. This allows them to identify what they are observing at a genuine site. Another benefit when modeling earthworks is understanding how artifacts are preserved in certain soil conditions. Through this work, archaeologists can recognize how much time it takes for certain materials to degrade and how quickly they need to excavate certain sites to preserve artifacts.

            Experimental archaeology has evolved to take on different forms with each having an important purpose. From social outreach programs to scientific studies, experimental archaeology is allowing archaeologists to better understand what they find and show the public the importance of their work.

Links of interest



Archaeology, Current. 2018. “Like a Rolling Stone: Experimental Archaeology at

            Stonehenge | The Past.” The Past. June 29, 2018. https://the-


Paardekooper, Roeland. 2019. “Experimental Archaeology: Who Does It, What Is the

            Use?” EXARC Journal, no. EXARC Journal Issue 2019/1 (February).



Shaw, Christine. 2007. “Site Publications.” Butser Ancient Farm Archive. 2007.


Stone, Edited Peter G, and Phillippe G Planel. 1999. “A Unique Research & Educational

            Establishment,” 10.