Game of Bones

Greetings from Felicia and Emily!


This week has turned out to be a week full of surprises, torrential rain, and a variety of animal bones. Four of our fieldmates had the exciting experience of working in the area of the vicus, a small stone settlement that arose around the fort in the Severan Period. Digging down, we hoped to reach a layer that corresponded to the earlier, larger timber fort of period 4.

Recent posts will attest to the interesting artefacts and ecofacts we found within the anaerobic layers. Of particular interest (at least to me) was the sheer number of bones and bone fragments found within the pit/drain feature within the trench I shared with Veronica, Paul, and Helen. Within a few feet of the surface we started to uncover bones of cow, sheep, pig and even a chicken!


The rest of us in the North Field also found some interesting things. A Roman ditch in the southeastern quadrant of the trench yielded the first bone finds of the season. Most of these bones were found in the gravel and silt layers of the ditch. While the soil layers in which these bones were found were not anaerobic, nonetheless the bone specimens uncovered survived due to the wet conditions of the soil and the durability of the bone material itself.

First bone finds from the North Field!
First bone finds from the North Field!

Felicia & Emily:

In addition to the bone specimens we were uncovering during field excavation, on Sunday we had a lecture in zooarchaeology with the go to expert in all things osteological in nature, Dr. Deb Bennett. During her presentation, we learned the techniques of acquiring bone specimens and how to properly clean and preserve them for later research. We were also exposed to the basics of animal anatomy and the shape, size and function of the basic bone features in animals. We briefly discussed the field of zooarchaeology and how the study of ancient animal specimens (such as the large collection found at Vindolanda) can not only tell scholars the environmental conditions of the area at the time, but also how such animals were used and the conditions they lived in. In this way, the behaviours of the ancient occupants of Vindolanda in regards to animals (be it for food, cohabitation or companionship) can be surmised.

Furthermore, we learned the basics of animal dentistry. To our amazement, we discovered that horses and cows have reserved crowns, which means they have a larger amount of tooth enamel that is worn down over the course of their lifetime. Akin to the horse and cow, rodents, such as mice, beavers and squirrels, have constantly growing teeth, which need to be worn down regularly. This is different from human beings, who only have one other full set of teeth (except for molars, of course) reserved in their crown. Our day ended with an exercise in the spinal reconstruction of 4 specimens: a pig, a sheep, a rabbit and a chicken. Putting together these bones in the right order looks a little harder than it seems, but we all managed with the knowledge we learned from Dr. Deb.

Discussing the cervical vertebrae of a sheep!BONES2
Dr. Deb doin her thaaang.
Dr. Deb doin’ her thaaang.








3 thoughts on “Game of Bones

  1. It’s great that the Field School finally got to meet the legendary Dr. Deb. And doesn’t Dr. Greene look like she is having a hard time of it in the second picture?

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