The Tortuous Process of Ritualisation

imageIn the post today I received a copy of “The Ritual Killing and Burial of Animals: European Perspectives”; a glossy hardback volume that should be of some interest to many zooarchaeologists and perhaps others too.  It includes my paper “Ritualisation (or The Four Fully Articulated Ungulates of the Apocalypse)”, based on research carried out in 2008 and first presented at a conference in 2009 (the proceedings of which form the basis of this publication).

Alongside ethnographic work carried out in Ethiopia I discuss a broad range of topics, including Mediaeval European conceptions of famine and disease, in relation to the interpretation of fully articulated animal bone groups (ABGs) in archaeology.  ABGs are often interpreted as ritual deposits by archaeologists but this paper argues that such interpretations are often no more than the poorly considered results of a an undefined prejudice.  It’s several years since the paper was first researched and written and I’d undoubtedly set about it in a different way now, nevertheless it is there for posterity and a copy of the abstract is included after the break.  A link to purchase a copy of the book is also included on the ‘books’ page of my website.

lion skeleton


Ritualisation (or The Four Fully Articulated Ungulates of the Apocalypse)

It is now common practice amongst British and European archaeologists to interpret burials of fully articulated animal skeletons as evidence of ritual activity, particularly on sites from the prehistoric or Roman periods. This interpretation of ritual activity has become an accepted analysis for many archaeologists, despite the full meaning behind such an interpretation remaining obscure. It is sometimes applied as a short-hand for these deposits without full consideration of other potential explanations.

Whilst conducting ethnographic fieldwork in Ethiopia during 2008, many fully and partially articulated bovid skeletons were observed on the ground, and were reported buried. The reasons behind such methods of disposal were discussed with the local people and are here presented with reference to other examples, in the hope that they may aid future interpretation of archaeological sites and zooarchaeological assemblages as an analogue of use in a variety of temporal and climatic situations.

A Tale of Two Universities

It’s been (and continues to be) a very busy couple of months.  So busy I’ve only just realised that this news page wasn’t updated during September.  The month began with the second lot of French fieldwork for the Ecosal Interreg project.  We were blessed with some very good weather for this.  Analysis of the material collected earlier in the year has continued over the summer and initial results are promising, showing some differences as well as similarities with the British material.

The second half of September saw me change my university affiliation as well as move location.  I am now in the Archaeology Department at the University of York.  This is a very exciting move that promises to help me continue to develop my career and my skills and knowledge.

I’m presently in the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, where I’m a Visiting Researcher in the Africana Studies department.  I’m doing some post-excavation work on material from two sites in Nigeria.  The material is excellent and I’m very much enjoying working with it.  It shows a very high diversity of taxa present and is also yielding some very good taphonomic information which will help in interpreting site-formation processes and butchery practices, as well as the usual economic and ecological information.

Finally, whilst in Charlotte I shall be giving a public lecture entitled “What Can Modern Day Agro-Pastoralist Practices in Ethiopia Tell Us About Past Lifestyles, There and Elsewhere?” in Fretwell 419 at 11am on 14th October.


How Can Different Methods of Deadstock Disposal Inform Zooarchaeologists About Past Taphonomies?

I’ll be presenting a case study on Carcass disposal and inter-site variability at the PZG workshop on Taphonomy: spotting it, recording it, and making sense of it… at the University of York on Saturday the 16th of July.  This presentation will compare ethnographic research carried out in Ethiopia and Mongolia and the different uses these have been put to in interpreting archaeological assemblages.