Today we were paid a visit by NYU’s Dr. Pam Crabtree, who has kindly agreed to help us with the analysis of the many faunal remains we found at Riverside. We were all blown away by her knowledge and ability to not only identify the animal a given bone belongs to right on the spot, but fit together bones we had no idea were even part of the same animal! Clearly we have a lot to learn.
What can faunal remains, or animal bones, tell archaeologists about the sites they are found in? Well, of course they provide valuable insights into the diet of people who inhabited the site, what animals were important in the diet, and how people obtained their food. In the case of multi-cultural neighborhoods like the types one encounters in New York City, faunal remains can help us pinpoint the ethnicity of a site’s inhabitants based on historical evidence of their diet. They can also teach us about other types of animals that weren’t used as food sources, such as pets like cats and dogs (Pam picked out a kitten bone from amongst all the cattle and sheep remains!), and scavengers like foxes and raccoons.
Faunal remains are also studied in order to address broader topics that concern the archaeological community, such as the beginnings of animal domestication, and even when considering questions to do with modern wildlife conservation.