Friday, April 10, 2015


Archaeology often offers a unique opportunity to analyze the human diet based on the recovery of dietary remains.  The analysis of this dietary refuse has yielded some very interesting insights into the human diet.  It has been said that some people live to eat, however, in reality; it is that all people eat to live. In fact, food science is a topic for serious discussion in light of the world’s rising human population - 7  billion + and growing! Not a day goes by when something about food is not the subject of a television or radio news clip or a full-fledged program on food products. As we all know, there’s even a Food Channel! To be sure, more and more households are beginning to grow their own foods while supplementing foods derived from the dairy and meat industries via the corner grocery store. Food is good and . . . . . . . food is necessary!

Upper: Elk antler cut mark modifications zooarchaeological specimen). Eschelman Site Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Lower: Whitetail deer horn tine with cut mark modifications (zooarchaeological specimen). Both specimens courtesy of the Section of Archaeology, The State Museum of Pennsylvania

In earlier times, when Native peoples were living in North America, diet was also varied, dictated only by what was available for the taking. Indeed, their diet was diverse and included tubers, fruits, nuts and other plant related foods. They also consumed foods taken from the water and surrounding landscape such as fin fish, shellfish, birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles - and of course, snails and insects. This brings us to this week’s TWIPA topic of zooarchaeology (and the letter Z, last letter in the current alphabetical sequence) so we will begin by briefly featuring several archaeological sites where animal bones have been studied.

Skeletal diagram of white tail deer showing butcher mark locations for dismembering the animal. Courtesy the Pennsylvania Archaeologist

A growing body of archaeological information in Pennsylvania is yielding quite an impressive inventory of animal foods that were among the many available sources for Native peoples . For example, Meadowcroft Rockshelter (36WH297) located in the Cross Creek drainage of southwestern Pennsylvania, in Washington County is considered to be the oldest continually occupied stratified rockshelter in North America. It contained 115,166 bones representing 5,634 individual vertebrate and 38 different snail and shellfish species. Many of the smaller remains, however, were dropped by raptors from the cliff face only to be recovered by archaeologists investigating the site from the stratified deposits thousands of years later (Guilday and Parmalee 1982; Lord 1982).

Upper: White tail deer skull (female), Elk County, Pennsylvania. James F. Herbstritt osteological collection. Lower: White tail deer (zooarchaeological specimen). Eschelman Site Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Both images courtesy The State Museum of Pennsylvania

Numerous animal remains from another rockshelter, now trapped beneath Lake Raystown in the Juniata Valley, were reported from the Sheep Rock Shelter (36HU1) in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania. In a joint field school, Juniata College and the Pennsylvania State University excavated at the Sheep Rock Shelter in 1958, 1959 and 1961 (Michels 1994). During the mid-1960’s Guilday and Permalee (1965) after analyzing 35,000 faunal remains from the site, identified 38 species of mammals (4,099 bones); 7 species of fin fish (1,091 bones); 40 species of birds (1,693 bones); 12 species of reptiles (1319 bones); 2 species of amphibians (719 bones) and 13 shell fish species were present. This list represents at least 99 vertebrate and 15 invertebrate species, all native to southcentral Pennsylvania in prehistoric times.

Whitetail deer humeri (zooarchaeological specimen)showing butcher mark areas outlined in red. Eschelman Site, Lancaster County, Pa. Courtesy the Section of Archaeology, The State Museum of Pennsylvania

Two additional archaeological sites, Quaker Hill Quarry (36LA1100) and Eschelman Site (36LA12) a part of the Washington Boro Village site, are included in this week’s TWIPA  feature that relate to zooarchaeological studies. These lower Susquehanna valley villages date from the mid- 16th century to the early 17th century, a period in a time when actual face-to-face encounters with Europeans had not yet occurred.

Diagram of Mountain Lion humerus showing cut marks (1 and 2). Eschelman Site. Courtesy the Pennsylvania Archaeologist

Subsistence data for the Quaker Hill Quarry site, a fortified Funk Phase Shenks Ferry village, was obtained during data recovery operations that ended in 2009. A sampling of refuse pits from the four acre village site yielded fewer large mammals than expected for a significant permanent village site of the 16th century. The water and/or chemical separation (flotation method) was used over the course of the field study and proved to be worthwhile in recovering small bones, fish scales and other minute-size specimens. This method yielded the most comprehensive archaeo-faunal assemblage from a Shenks Ferry village site to date where more than 21,800 bone elements representing 42 aquatic, avian and terrestrial vertebrate/invertebrate species (Whyte 2005) were analyzed.

Bob Cat skull, Elk County, Pa.  James F. Herbstritt osteological collection. Courtesy the Section of Zoology and Botany, The State Museum of Pennsylvania

The Eschelman Site is a fortified Susquehannock village in the town of Washington Boro, Lancaster County,Pennsylvania. In 1949 the site was explored and identified as one of the dump sites where the Susquehannocks discarded their village trash (Kent 1984). Later on, zooarchaeological studies by Guilday, Parmalee and Tanner (1962) identified over 58,000 bone fragments – many of the mammals such as deer, bear, mountain lion, wolf, gray fox, bobcat and dog displayed the telltale signs of butcher marks indicating that such animals were skinned, stripped of their meat and used for food. In addition, there were 26 species of mammals; 33 bird species; 5 species of reptile; 2 amphibian; and 7 fish, respectively.

Junior archaeologist assisting with the recording of a historic period dog burial at Fort Hunter Mansion and Park, Courtesy The Section of Archaeology State Museum of Pennsylvania

In summary, zooarchaeological studies of bones provide us with a glimpse into the past where animals were an essential aspect of Native people’s diets.  Analysis of the dietary refuse of the past has provided us with a more complete picture of human survival.  These changes and adaptation in our diets are a reflection of  environmental and settlement pattern changes which have occurred over time. In tandem with wild and cultivated plant products these protein foods provided the necessary nourishment to sustain life and well-being at a time when the supermarket’s butcher shop was a thing of the future.

Guilday, John E., Paul W. Parmalee and Donald P. Tanner
1962       Aboriginal Butchering Techniques at the Eschelman Site (36LA12), Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 32(2):59-83.

Guilday, John E. and Paul W. Parmalee
1965       Animal Remains from the Sheep Rock Shelter (36HU1), Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 35(1):34-49.

Guilday, John E. and Paul W. Parmalee
1982       Vertebrate Faunal Remains from the Meadowcroft Rockshelter, Washington County, Pennsylvania: A Summary and Interpretation. In: Meadowcroft: Collected Papers on the Archaeology of Meadowcroft Rockshelter and the Cross Creek Drainage. Edited by Ronald C. Carlisle and James M. Adovasio.

Kent, Barry C.
1984       Susquehanna’s Indians. Anthropological Series No.6. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission

Lord, K.
1982       Invertebrate Faunal Remains from Meadowcroft Rockshelter, Washington County, Southwestern Pennsylvania. In: Meadowcroft: Collected Papers on the Archaeology of Meadowcroft Rockshelter and the Cross Creek Drainage. Edited by Ronald C. Carlisle and James M. Adovasio.

Michels, Joseph W.
1994       Excavations at the Sheep Rock Shelter (36HU1): An Historical Review. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 64(1):28-40.

Whyte, Thomas R.

2005       Vertebrate Archaeofaunal Remains from Site 36LA1100, The Stabler Tract Project, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Report submitted to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Bureau for Historic Preservation.

For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .

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