You are cordially invited to… Fieldwork, Conferences or Short Courses (take your pick)

Apparently Valentine’s Day parties exist. I’m not entirely clear what goes on at these events, nor am I certain that I’d like to know. It seems, though, like a good (OK, tenuous) excuse to publicise some forthcoming events I’m involved with in some capacity or another and which have application deadlines for participants fast approaching.

First: after our successful pilot project in 2012, this year sees the resumption of the Western Mongolia Archaeology Project (where do we get these names from?). This project sees myself and the other members of the successful Khanuy Valley Project team reunite to test our models for prehistoric Mongolian living, developed in Northern Central Mongolia, in the Altai mountain range – famed for its Pazyryk monuments. Working at the very edge of the area we visited in 2012 this marks the beginning of an exciting new multi-year project, with all of the survey work that that promises this year! We’ll be in the field from 8th June to 8th July and we’re accepting applications from students and volunteers now – in fact, the deadline for applications is just two weeks away as I write this, on 28th February 2014. More details of the project and the application process can be found on its website.


imageSecond: just one day after that deadline is the deadline for submissions of papers to sessions at the 2014 ICAZ conference in San Rafael, Argentina. Regular readers of this ‘blog will know that I’m co-organising two sessions at the conference: ‘Zooarchaeology of Pastoralism’ and ‘Bones in Space’. Both sessions are shaping up nicely with some good contributions and we’re looking into publication possibilities for each of them. If you haven’t yet submitted a proposal though and you’re keen to do so don’t worry – we won’t be making any decisions until after the final deadline of March 1st. Applications for all sessions, including numbers 4 (Bones in Space) and 35 (Zooarchaeology of Pastoralism) have to be made through the conference website.

imageThird: we’re running the ‘Understanding Zooarchaeology I’ short course at the University of Sheffield again from 7th to 9th April. This will be the eighth time that we’ve run the course but the first time since June 2013. As always, places are provided on a first-come, first-served basis and they are filling up fast but there are still some available at the moment, which can be booked through the course website.


If anybody would like to discuss any of the above events and opportunities then they’re more than welcome to email me.

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It’s a Game Old Bird

This morning, an article in Nature announced to the world a newly discovered early bird – Aurornis (or click here for the summary, here for the BBC summary). This bird (a rather snazzy artist’s impression is included below) seems to have existed around 160 million years ago, that is around 10 million years earlier than Archaeopteryx. From my, distant, perspective, 10 million years is roughly contemporary once you reach the Jurassic. The authors of this paper plainly disagree though and suggest that Aurornis xui is an ancestor of Archaeopteryx.

That’s significant. For those of you that don’t keep up with the dynamic, catty, world of bird taxonomy, Archaeopteryx was fairly recently relegated by many from avian to non-avian dinosaur status (yes, recent work suggests that birds are so closely related to dinosaurs that we now have to use the cumbersome equivalent of the ‘non-human ape’ favoured by primatologists). So, probably the most famous ‘first bird’ is now a bird again; everyone can rest easy (for now – I fully expect a response paper in the next issue disputing this taxonomy).

Source: Nature article linked in text above


So, what does all this mean for someone who specialises in the late Quaternary? Not a lot really, it’s an interesting diversion from the day-job but all this squabbling scarcely affects bird research in the Pleistocene and Holocene except for the uncertainty surrounding much of the taxonomy of our modern avifauna. I fully expect it to be another twenty years or so before a consensus is reached as to living bird taxonomy, let alone fossil; in practical terms, for now, perhaps I need to revise my ‘earliest bird’ date in my teaching hand-outs?

Speaking of which, I’ll again be teaching the ‘birds’ class in the University of Sheffield Introduction to Zooarchaeology shortcourse in two and a half weeks’ time. Anyone who might be interested in attending that course is encouraged to book soon – there are one or two places still available as I write this but they’re filling up fast. For more information and to book a place see the course website or else contact one of us (course staff) directly. Finally, in a partly contrived way of making this post more relevant to the ‘blog, I’m including a free sampler of the course here! After the break you’ll find an extract from my hand-out for the birds class.

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Birds in Zooarchaeology

There are c.9,500 species of birds in the world and over 200 in the UK (precise figures are hard to establish due to taxonomy and migratory & vagrant species), compared with 4,300 and 60 mammals, respectively. Birds evolved much more recently than mammals (around 160 million years ago as against 225mya; the Neornithes, the sub-class which contains all modern birds, evolved around 85mya) and DNA research suggesting that birds are far more closely related to each other than we previously realised led some researchers to call for a drastic overhaul of bird taxonomy in 1990. More recent (refined) molecular, fossil and anatomical evidence is beginning to resolve some of these disputes but for the time being no single taxonomy is recognised universally; meaning that the taxonomy of several species, genera and even families is currently much disputed. For these reasons, it can be appreciated that secure identifications based on skeletal remains present a challenge to the zooarchaeologist. The general principles of identification and recording remain the same as for mammals, however, and indeed most of the bones are analogous in function and structure, even if there are notable differences.

Birds interact with humans in several different ways – as food, as guards, as objects of beauty, as sources of secondary products (eggs and feathers), as commensals, as pets, as hunting companions and as pest controllers – and to some degree their presence in a zooarchaeological assemblage can reflect any or all of these different roles. Interpretations of these roles are usually based on analogy with ethnographic or historical records and some direct observations such as butchery marks on the bones, medullary bone or the presence of egg shell in the assemblage.

Medullary bone and eggs are reliable indicators of seasonality, as are migratory birds but we need to consider whether or not migration patterns may have changed when using these species as seasonal indicators. More generally, all wild birds can be ecological indicators when interpreting past environments and the records themselves are useful sources for biogeographical research.

Domestic birds are usually less important than domestic mammals for food but the domestic fowl, Gallus domesticus, (there is, oddly, no specific English word for this bird: ‘chicken’ technically refers to a female domestic fowl under the age of one year; ‘hens’ are the female of any bird species and ‘chook’ is not widely recognised outside of Australia and the UK: all of which clearly shows the need for using binomial classifications in scientific literature) is the most numerous higher vertebrate in the UK and on earth. The importance of birds as food, then, should not be underestimated and wild birds in particular, as food or not, can also be important indicators of status.


Serjeantson, D., 2009. Birds. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.


Gill, F. & Donsker, D., 2013. IOC World Bird List (v 3.3). Available at

Svensson, L., Mullarney, K., Zetterström, D. & Grant, P.J., 2010. Collins Bird Guide [2nd edn.]. Harper Collins, London.


Bocheński, Z.M. & Tomek, T., 2009. A Key for the Identification of Domestic Bird Bones in Europe: Preliminary Determination. Institute of Systematics and Evolution of Animals, Polish Academy of Sciences, Kraków.

Cohen, A. & Serjeantson, D., 1986. A Manual for the Identification of Bird Bones from Archaeological Sites. Archetype Publications Ltd., London.

Tomek, T. & Bocheński, Z.M., 2000. The Comparative Osteology of European Corvids (Aves: Corvidae), with a Key to the Identification of their Skeletal Elements. Institute of Systematics and Evolution of Animals, Polish Academy of Sciences, Kraków.

Tomek, T. & Bocheński, Z.M., 2009. A Key for the Identification of Domestic Bird Bones in Europe: Galliformes and Columbiformes,. Institute of Systematics and Evolution of Animals, Polish Academy of Sciences, Kraków.


Acta Zoologica Cracoviensia 45 (2002)

Archaeofauna 2 (1992)

International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, 7(4) (1997)

Grupe, G. & Peters, J., 2005. Feathers, Grit and Symbolism: Birds and Humans in the Old and New Worlds. Verlag Marie Leidorf GmbH, Rahden/Westfalen.

Poole, K., 2010. Bird Introductions, in: O’Connor, T.P. & Sykes, N.J. (Eds.), Extinctions and Invasions: A Social History of British Fauna. Windgather Press Ltd., Oxford. pp. 156-165

Prummel, W., Zeiler, J.T. & Brinkhuizen, D.C., 2010. Birds in Archaeology: Proceedings of the 6th Meeting of the ICAZ Bird Working Group in Groningen (23.8 – 27.8.2008) Barkhuis Publishing/Groningen University Library, Groningen.

Serjeanston, D., 1998. Birds: A Seasonal Resource, Environmental Archaeology, 3, 23-34

Serjeantson D., 2010. Extinct Birds, in: O’Connor, T.P. & Sykes, N.J. (Eds.), Extinctions and Invasions: A Social History of British Fauna. Windgather Press Ltd., Oxford. pp. 146-155

Yalden, D.W., & Albarella, U., 2009. The History of British Birds. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Fancy Going on a Summer Holiday? It’s Edifying Up North!

Our Zooarchaeology shortcourse at the University of Sheffield was a success again last month: students came from many different backgrounds and countries; they all said that they had a lot of fun and learned a lot and we enjoyed meeting them all and helping them in their learning. That, of course, was the first time that we’d run the advanced course alongside the introductory one, so we were doubly pleased to welcome back some familiar faces and hear how they were developing their zooarchaeology knowledge away from the classroom.

It’s not long now before our next course though and, again, we’re offering something new. We’ve teamed up with the human osteoarchaeology lab at Sheffield to offer an extended package of courses in June as well as offering a course on marine resources in zooarchaeology – a topic often overlooked in many zooarchaeology courses which can implicitly focus on terrestrial (and particularly domesticated) animals. All of our courses assume no prior knowledge and can be taken on their own, or in combination with any of the other courses.

The full package is made up of three short courses, in zooarchaeology, marine resources and human osteology which can be taken separately or booked together for a discount:

Understanding Zooarchaeology 1
17-19th  June 2013
Cost: £180/£120 (concession)
Through three days of short lectures, discussions, case studies, and hands-on practical work, this course offers a solid introduction to the identification of animal bones, the theory and methods behind zooarchaeology, and the uses and limitations of this form of evidence. This course an ideal starting point for archaeologists, museum curators, heritage professionals, and natural history enthusiasts who encounter animal bones and/or zooarchaeological reports in their research or professional capacities. Equally, it provides a firm basis for students interested in pursuing further training.

Marine Resources
20-21st  June 2013
Cost: £180/£120 (concession)
This course provides detailed insight into faunal remains associated with human exploitation of coastal environments. The course is heavily based on practical laboratory sessions that provide training in the identification of fish, mollusc, marine bird, crustacean and marine mammal remains. In addition, short lectures and case studies are used to provide examples of how different lines of evidence are brought together to provide an integrated understanding of marine resource exploitation, often as part of a more extensive subsistence strategy, for archaeological sites in Europe. Of particular relevance to coastal enthusiasts, archaeologists, environmental scientists, and biologists.

Introduction to Human Osteology
24-28th  June 2013
Cost: £400/£340 (concession)
This five day course provides participants with an overview of human skeletal anatomy and a variety of osteological methods, in order to convey understanding and recognition of standard osteological practice and help participants gain confidence when dealing with human skeletal material. The course is suitable for those working in outdoor occupations, the rescue services, field archaeology and museums, or students and for those wanting a taster course in human osteology.
Courses can be taken individually or in any combination. We also offer the following:
  * 10% reduction in fees for all those attending all 3 courses (£684/£522 concession)
  * Detailed information on international travel to Sheffield and short breaks in the UK
  * Possibility of a day trip to sites of osteoarchaeological interest (for a small extra cost)

Registration is now open. To book your place, or find out more information, please visit our website at:

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Want to Know More About Zooarchaeology?

Registration is now open for Sheffield University Zooarchaeology Short Courses in March 2013!

Animal bones and teeth are among the most common remains found on archaeological sites. Studying archaeological animal bones can give us valuable insights into diet, farming, industry, society and environment in the past.

Over the past two years we’ve had the privilege of introducing over 120 people from commercial archaeological units and museums as well as students and archaeology volunteers from across the world, to zooarchaeological analysis through our three day Zooarchaeology Short Course in Sheffield.

We as a team have loved every minute of it, so in 2013 we are rolling out two new additions to our original Zooarchaeology Short Course. Through short lectures, discussions and hands on practical workshops, these courses will provide practical experience of zooarchaeological methods.

We are running Understanding zooarchaeology I: a short course for archaeology and heritage professionals, students and enthusiasts from 18th – 20th March 2013.

This will be the 6th presentation of this course, which is specifically designed for people with little or no previous experience in zooarchaeology. It is an ideal introduction to zooarchaeology for archaeologists, museum curators and other heritage professionals who come across animal bones and/or zooarchaeological reports in their professional capacity, and want to understand more about this line of evidence. Students are also welcomed and our short course aims to provide a firm basis for further training.

From 21st– 22nd March 2013 we are running an advanced two day short course: Understanding zooarchaeology II, which will build on the content of our basic course. This course will cover the identification of a wider range of species than our introductory course, and will provide participants with experience in recording and analysing a real archaeological assemblage. Understanding Zooarchaeology II is suitable for anyone who has already attended our Understanding Zooarchaeology I course, or who already has a basic knowledge of zooarchaeological methods.

Each short course is competitively priced at £165 (waged)/ £110 (unwaged). If you would like to register for either or even both of these courses please follow the “book your place” link on our website.

But that’s not all! In the summer of 2013 we are also planning to run a new two day short course on marine resources. Keep an eye on our website for more details in due course!

More information about the content of our courses and teaching team, can be found on our website:

You can e-mail us at: or through the usual contacts section of my website.  For those who use more vogueish communication methods than I do, there’s also an official Facebook page for regular updates!/pages/Sheffield-Zooarchaeology-Short-Course/100619023380021

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Around the Web

I’ve recently given my website a bit of a spring-clean (yes, I know it’s autumn).  The changes may not be obvious at first glance but I don’t think there’s a single page that hasn’t had at least one change made to it, even if that means simply updating my publications.  The two most notable changes are the addition of small new features: in the book shop I’ve added a category for books I’ve reviewed for journals; staying on that theme, I wondered if a more readily accessible source of reviews of archaeology books may be of interest to some people.  The second feature then, is my small contribution to just that: I’ve added a link from the homepage to my “archaeology” shelf on GoodReads.  This provides access to all of the archaeology books I’ve reviewed and rated.

The zooarchaeology group at Sheffield have also been busy updating their webpages recently.  Part of this update involved posting the dates for the next short course, which will run from 18th-20th March 2013.  The eagle-eyed may notice that the title of the course has now changed.  This does not reflect any changes to the content of the course but rather reflects wider developments: the course is now called “Understanding Zooarchaeology I: an introductory short course for professionals, students and enthusiasts” and precedes “Understanding Zooarchaeology II: an advanced short course for archaeology and heritage professionals, students, and enthusiasts”.  This new course will cover the identification of a wider range of species than our introductory short course, including wild British mammals and birds, and the separation of sheep and goats. It will run from 21st-22nd March 2013 and will also provide participants with experience in recording and analysing a real archaeological assemblage and putting into practice the full range of skills used by a zooarchaeologist on a daily basis.  As with Understanding Zooarchaeology I, topics will be covered using short lectures and hands-on practical activities and is open to anybody who has already attended that first course or who already has comparable experience.  I’ll be teaching on both courses.

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Whatever Happened to August?

As regular visitors to this website will know, I spent almost the entirety of August in Tanzania as a member of the Archaeological Investigation of a “Moving Frontier” of Early Herding in Northern Tanzania project team.  As a pilot project, the main aim of the field season was to try and find sites for future further investigation.  Accordingly, I spent most of my time conducting targeted foot IMG_1378survey in the Engaruka and Manyara basins, as well as in the Ufana River Valley.  Some promising sites were found and test excavations and/or shovel pit surveys were used to further explore some of these sites: we await C14 dating results to establish our success (or otherwise)!  A more detailed overview of the current state of play will be given at the AEA conference in Reading, in November, in our presentation entitled “No Flies on Us” (for more details on that see either the last post here or my profile.

From Tanzania, I flew directly (well, indirectly) to Helsinki for this year’s EAA conference.  There I co-presented a paper describing what investigation of ethnographic sites in Mongolia can reveal to us about burnt animal bones in the archaeological record (again, further details can be found on my page).  Our paper was well received and provoked a good deal of discussion throughout the rest of the day.  The day before that, meanwhile, I had co-chaired a session concerning the integration of artefactual and environmental approaches to understanding urban Mediaeval life in Europe.  This, too, was generally well received with some excellent papers provoking a good deal of debate which we were happy to make time for.  We’re currently in discussion with publishers about printing the proceedings of the session: based on what we’ve seen so far Ben, Idoia and I are very excited to see this through.

Finally, I was brought quickly back to “normal life” (whatever that is for an archaeologist) when, one day after arriving home in York, I spent the rest of the week teaching as a part of the Introduction to Zooarchaeology short course at the University of Sheffield.  This course went very well: there was broad agreement that it was the best one yet and we had a terrific group of students.  That was the fifth time we’ve run the course and it will return again in 2013 alongside a new advanced course – watch this space!  Of course, if you happen to live in Yorkshire and are interested in learning more about zooarchaeology, bookings are now open for both the Introduction to Zooarchaeology and Introduction to Ethnoarchaeology courses at the University of York.

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