Student blog — A Look Back

One of the best parts of the field school is having the chance to experience many different facets of archaeology. Some people quickly learn they love the technicalities of excavation, while others become enamoured of surveying and mapping. Still others discover their true interests lie in the lab, or with certain kinds of artifacts or time periods. Here’s a peek into Emily’s experience in this year’s field school. — Kate

As the field school comes to a close, it’s nice to take a look back at what I’ve learned. Over the course of the program I’ve had the opportunity to learn about archaeological techniques in both the field and in the lab. When most people think about archaeology, they think about the excavation process – where artifacts are removed from the ground. Of course finding artifacts is important, but an equally important aspect of archaeology is organizing and cataloguing artifacts so we can make sense of what we’ve found. In order to do this, we must be familiar with the types of artifacts found at our site.

In the first week of the course Kate and Marit gave us a lesson focusing on the types of glass, ceramic, and other artifacts we would be finding. While I enjoyed learning about these material types (and being able to identify them in the field and in lab), the thing I most enjoyed working with were the animal bones found on site. Since I haven’t had the opportunity to take a course focusing on human or animal bones yet I was excited to learn everything I could during the field course. As it turns out I think I’ve learned quite a bit!

Kate is amazing and identified every bone I showed her, telling me which animal it probably belonged to and what bone it is. In my limited experience with bones in a biological anthropology course I took, I had a tough time siding bones. Kate showed me how to side ribs during the course, and I was really excited when I got it! I also learned how to identify bird bones, which are hollow unlike mammal bones, and was happy about that too! I’m excited to continue learning how to identify bones in the future!

A bird bone, possibly from a chicken. Found on the exterior side of the North wall. Photo: Emily Finbow
A bird bone, possibly from a chicken. Found on the exterior side of the North wall. Photo: Emily Finbow

Animal bones found at a site can be used to understand the people who lived there. While not all of these applications are relevant to the Nassau Mills site, I enjoy learning about what certain artifacts at a site mean – specifically bones!

A faunal assemblage can sometimes be used to determine what the environment was like when the site was occupied. This can be done because specific animals require specific habitats. This application would typically be useful for sites much older than the Nassau Mills site. Animal bones found at a site can also be used to determine subsistence strategies of the people who lived there. For example, a major indicator of an agricultural society is a large number of young male animals being butchered. Male animals would be killed to eat as soon as they were old enough, while females were kept to produce milk and offspring.

Although interesting, this application wouldn’t give us too much new information about the Nassau Mills site because we already have a large amount of historical documentation for this period. Even though the animal bones being found at the Nassau Mills site may not be the most important artifacts for dating and determining the significance of the site, I still enjoyed applying the concepts I’ve learned about in class to a real archaeological site!

— Emily Finbow

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