Zooarchaeology, also known as Archaeozoology, is the study of animal remains from archaeological sites. The remains consist primarily of the hard parts of the body such as bones, teeth, and shells. Such remains may represent the food refuse of ancient populations as well as animals used for transportation, farm or other labor or pet, or for decoration, clothing and tools and the scrap therefrom.
The study of these remains helps archaeologists understand past human subsistence strategies and economic interactions, and completes our picture of the kind of environments humans have inhabited.
Naming the discipline
The multi-disciplinary nature of this field is reflected in the disagreements over its name. One of the first clear references to this area of study was by Lubbock (1865) who used the term zoologico-archaeologist. The modern derivatives, such as zooarchaeology, zooarcheologie, or zooarchaeologia are probably the most commonly used terms in the Americas and reflect the anthropological perspective prevalent in their research. In Eurasia and Africa the term archaeozoology is more commonly seen, and this emphasises the biological nature of the animal remains. Other terms that are occasionally used are osteoarchaeology, bioarchaeology (in the United States, this is generally used to refer to the analysis of human remains from archaeological sites) and ethnozoology. While these disputes may seem trivial, they reflect differences in the approach and perception of the same material (Reitz and Wing, 1999: 2-6).
As can be seen from the discussion about the name that should be given to this discipline, zooarchaeology overlaps significantly with other areas of study. These include:
Primary analysis of individual assemblages
A typical report based upon a faunal assemblage will include the following information:
- An inventory of the bones, including species and element, and concluding with totals such as Minimum Number of Individuals (MNI), Minimum Number of Elements (MNE) and Number of Identified Specimens (NISP),
- Age-establishing data, based upon epiphyseal fusion, dental eruption and tooth wear,
- Sexing data, based upon bone morphology,
- Metrical data (see also ABMAP),
- Taphonomy, including weathering, gnawing, butchery, burning and related processes,
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