A Bison Trap at the Clovis Site (poster)

Bison Trap_S.BennettAn excellent poster about Ms. Bennett’s work on the South Bank Bison Trap at the Clovis Site.  Click the image for a larger image or the following for a full pdf:

Bison Trap_S.Bennett_10-7-2013_smallest

Bioarchaeology Link: Powered by Osteons

PBO-version1A Bone Girl Blog

Powered by Osteons is an interesting bioarchaeology website with a focus on Rome but with a remarkably broad set of interests.  I have only scratched the surface myself.

Dr Kristina Killgrove is an “assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of West Florida.  My educational background includes degrees in Latin (BA, University of Virginia), Classical Archaeology (BA, University of Virginia; MA, UNC Chapel Hill), and Anthropology (MA, East Carolina University; PhD, UNC Chapel Hill).  I have a strong commitment to interdisciplinary work, as my research and teaching bridge the sometimes large divide between classics and anthropology.Dr is an assistant professor of biological anthropology at the University of West Florida.”

From her website:

“I am trained as a classical bioarchaeologist, and therefore am one of the few scholars who has started to answer questions about the ancient Romans using their skeletons. My research has focused primarily on immigration to Rome and urban collapse at Gabii during the Imperial period (1st-4th centuries AD). This work blends anthropological theory, biochemical analysis, and classical archaeology to find out more about people rarely represented in the historical record of the Roman world: immigrants, women, children, and slaves.”

Currently, I am an assistant professor of biological anthropology at the University of West Florida.”

Her professional link is here: http://killgrove.org/

Go forth and learn some of the latest in bioarchaeology.

Rancho La Brea Photo Album


Wandering scholars discover the Page Museum at La Brea Tar Pits.

Recent travels allowed for a quick visit to the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits.  Now in their one hundredth year of excavation, the site has yielded over 600 species to date with a NISP of over 3.5 million (not counting over 200 bacteria).  It’s a remarkable place and I feel privileged to to have been given an excellent tour by Dr John Harris and Curator Gary Takeuchi.  Tar still bubbles and oozes and excavations continue, thanks in part to continuing growth of this highly urbanized area.


Chuck and George with Dr John Harris and Gary Takeuchi

Although most of the tar seeps are closed off for safety, a couple can be accessed with a guide.  The surface is just as deceptive as it is described and is often covered with leaves and dirt.  The tar can also be deceptively solid feeling until the incredible stickiness locks your feet to the tar.  Dr Harris provided a great example by having us poke the tar with a wooden lath.  Even though it is solid enough to resist the lath for more than a top inch or two, it is extremely difficult to pull it back out again and it’s easy to imagine a hooved animal becoming mired almost instantly to await it’s demise by large cat or wolf or even thirst.


You just gotta poke it with a stick…

For reasons that aren’t completely clear, there are an extremely high number of predators and scavengers in the mix, implying that many carnivores may be tempted by a struggling animal but the more cautious grazers were likely scared away by their thrashing comrades.  The upshot of this is an enormous number of coyotes, wolves, saber-toothed cats, short-faced bears, and American lions as well as the full gamut of vulture-like birds filling these pits and seeps.  Below I am holding the humerus of a Smilodon fatalis, a prevalent creature at the Tar Pits.


Examining a freshly excavated smilodon humerus (upper arm of saber-toothed cat).


Examining the mounted saber-toothed cats.


And of course, a mammoth.


A couple of mastodon.


Just a glimpse of the over 3.5 million specimens housed at the Page.


We had a wonderful tour of the “fish-bowl” lab by Shelly Cox.  Here we examine the newly cleaned mammoth tusk.

Tusks grow like tree-rings and tell scientists a lot about the environment the creature lived in by proxy.  A section of this particular specimen has been removed for analysis already.


Cranium of a very familiar looking mammoth. Although not found inundated in tar, there is still enough in the sediment that it is oozing from the cleaned skull.

For anyone interested in Ice Age fauna, the Page Museum is a definite “must see” stop on the journey through life.


Click the mammoth to see more from the Page Museum at http://www.tarpits.org.

First dairying in green Saharan Africa in the fifth millennium bc

Interesting stuff from Nature, 20 June 2012:

“In the prehistoric green Sahara of Holocene North Africa—in contrast to the Neolithic of Europe and Eurasia—a reliance on cattle, sheep and goats emerged as a stable and widespread way of life, long before the first evidence for domesticated plants or settled village farming communities123. The remarkable rock art found widely across the region depicts cattle herding among early Saharan pastoral groups, and includes rare scenes of milking; however, these images can rarely be reliably dated4. Although the faunal evidence provides further confirmation of the importance of cattle and other domesticates5, the scarcity of cattle bones makes it impossible to ascertain herd structures via kill-off patterns, thereby precluding interpretations of whether dairying was practiced. Because pottery production begins early in northern Africa6 the potential exists to investigate diet and subsistence practices using molecular and isotopic analyses of absorbed food residues7. This approach has been successful in determining the chronology of dairying beginning in the ‘Fertile Crescent’ of the Near East and its spread across Europe89,1011. Here we report the first unequivocal chemical evidence, based on the δ13C and Δ13C values of the major alkanoic acids of milk fat, for the adoption of dairying practices by prehistoric Saharan African people in the fifth millennium BC. Interpretations are supported by a new database of modern ruminant animal fats collected from Africa. These findings confirm the importance of ‘lifetime products’, such as milk, in early Saharan pastoralism, and provide an evolutionary context for the emergence of lactase persistence in Africa.”

and a nice summary here at Penn News:

PHILADELPHIA — The first unequivocal evidence that humans in prehistoric Saharan Africa used cattle for their milk nearly 7,000 years ago is described in research by an international team of scientists, led by researchers from the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom and including Kathleen Ryan of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Their work was published today in Nature

Read on…

Mammoth Butchered By Lions Then Seized By Humans

The Yuka Mammoth.  A very interesting and important find from Siberia tells us some harsh facts about its demise.  Investigators believe it was taken by a large predator, possibly a lion, then stolen away by humans.  “Even more interesting, there are hints that humans may have taken over the kill at an early stage.”

Tusk and tooth analysis indicate that the mammoth was about two and a half years old when it died.  I haven’t seen an academic publication yet but hope to read more about it soon.  The dates discussed are tentatively about 10,000 years old, placing the find near the end of our Paleoindian period.  Healed wounds on the hide suggest that the young mammoth survived an earlier attack but fresh wounds were likely related to the cause of death.  Later cuts on the hide and bones, with the subsequent removal of the skull, ribs, and pelvis are believed to be caused by humans.  Hopefully, further investigations with clarify the human interaction.

Soft tissue preservation is rare and will add greatly to our general knowledge of this extinct species.  Read the story here.

Below is a great link to learn more about Eurasian mammoths, brought to you by the BBC.

Photo of the Week

An Agate Basin point made of Alibates Agate from north Texas found in situ below a bison mandible.  While the quality of these photos are not great, they show an amazing find that was not discovered until long after the bison mandible was exposed and pedestaled.  This mandible is contained in the excavated bonebed still on display in the South Bank Interpretive Center at the Blackwater Draw site.

Under analysis by the blog author.

View of the hafting end.

Photo of the Week 9/16/2011

Illustration of a worked mammoth tusk excavated and on display at the Blackwater Draw site.

Archaeologically speaking, finding the raw material (mammoth ivory), or finding finished tools (ivory rods, shaft wrenches…), is far more common than finding ivory  in the process of being modified.  The stone tool marks on this artifact are quite distinctive and clearly visible to the naked eye.  Read more about this interesting artifact in the 1990 article written by Jeffrey Saunders et al.  Dr. Saunders is responsible for most of the identification and stabilization of the faunal remains excavated during the 1960s.  He is currently a curator at the Illinois State Museum and his work is displayed with pride at the BWD site’s visitor center.

Saunders, J.J., C. Vance Haynes, Jr., Dennis Stanford, and George A. Agogino
1990   A Mammoth-Ivory Semi-fabricate from Blackwater Locality No. 1, New Mexico.  American Antiquity 55:112-119.

Blackwater Draw Bibliography

The Age of Dogs

Its seems the date of dog domestication keeps being pushed further back in time.  Recent finds in the Altai mountains of Siberia indicate domestication by 33,000 B.P., near the peak of the last ice-age.  The specimen shows paedomophism in the snout, but with large, wolf-like teeth.  Dogs are so important to recent bio-cultural evolution that they are something we shouldn’t leave out of any look at hunter-gatherers.

photo credit: BBC News

There are no dogs reported from the Paleoindian excavations at Blackwater Draw but I suspect we will someday have some evidence of their interaction with the First Americans in the area.  Our excavation bias at the Landmark is that we have primarily a series of kill-sites but little domestic evidence.  I am often asked by the public “why are there no humans buried here?”  What we find are piles of bison, mammoth, pronghorn, etc. but the hunters were not dying here.  If they were, I suspect even then they would be taken away for some sort of mortuary practice.  The dogs, just like their more recent descendants, likely went off to die alone or possibly were eaten and ended up in the trash midden.

Click the photo for the BBC article or copy the link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-14390679

The Snowmass Mastodons

Excavations of the amazing finds near Snowmass, Colorado are wrapping up.   Mammoths, mastodons, ground sloths, bison, camels and horses were all found in excellent state of preservation.  There was apparently wood and leaves found in the boggy environment.  I hope some great information comes from this extraordinary find.

Click the photo for the NY Times article.