Taphonomy, Chemistry, Bones & Bugs : Cutting Edge of Archaeological Science

Friday, May 17, 2019 - 9:00am to 4:30pm
  • Véronique Forbes - Memorial University of New Foundland
  • Paul Ledger - Memorial University of New Foundland
Contact Email: 
09:10 AM: Labrador Inuit long-distance travel and the communal house phase: Review of old and emerging archaeological work through the lens of past climate records and climate model inferences
Presentation format:
  • Deirdre Elliott - Memorial University of Newfoundland
  • Nicolai Bronikowski - Memorial University of Newfoundland
  • Heather Andres - Memorial University of Newfoundland

Recent research concerning the Inuit past has hinted at the extent of Inuit mobility and of the importance of long-distance travel in creating and maintaining economies along extended social networks. While studies of past mobility are currently a hot topic in archaeology, these concepts have not yet been widely applied to the past lifeways of the Labrador Inuit. The initial Inuit colonisation of the eastern Arctic, from Alaska to Baffin Island, Ellesmere Island, and Greenland has been a subject of debate among archaeologists for a century, but continued travel between these places and Ungava and Labrador has received comparatively little attention. This problem is especially pertinent to a period in time called the Communal House Phase. This was a period between the mid-17th century and into the 19th century during which Inuit in Labrador and parts of Greenland adopted large, communal living arrangements. The drivers of this change have not been identified confidently, despite decades of separate study in Labrador and in Greenland. In this paper we contextualise recent human mobility-related data leading up to and during this period of social change from Labrador, adjacent Ungava, Baffin Island, and Greenland with published past climate reconstructions as well as simulated climate results from the Climate Modelling Intercomparison Project (CMIP) 5. In doing so, we explore the possibilities of travel between land masses after initial colonisation, to better understand the extent and nature of Inuit socio-economic networks in the past.

09:40 AM: Emorph Project: Reconstructing habitat type and mobility patterns of Rangifer tarandus during the Late Pleistocene in Southwestern France: an ecomorphological study.
Presentation format:
  • Ana Belen Galan Lopez - Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS).-Université de Montreal (UdeM)
  • Ariane Burke - Université de Montreal
  • Sandrine Costamagno - Université de Toulouse Jean Jaurès - Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS)

Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) was one of the most important prey species for human populations in Western and Central Europe during much of the Palaeolithic period, notably during the Glacial periods(Costamagno et al. 2015) and many studies have focused on the role of reindeer in Upper Palaeolithic, particularly during the Magdalenian(17,000-12,000 years ago). Modern ethological data indicate that reindeer herds adopt different mobility strategies that correlate with habitat type and topography. Mobility patterns of prehistoric reindeer, therefore, should be predictable since palaeoenvironmental reconstructions allow us to identify whether or not they lived in more open or more wooded environments.

An animal´s habitat and pattern of mobility hypothetically affect bone density and limb bone morphology, as has been demonstrated in several large vertebrate species(DeGusta and Vrba, 2003; Bignon et al. 2005).Our project tries to identify the impact of habitat type and mobility on bone density and morphology of reindeer living in different habitats using Computer Tomography(CT), a non-invasive technique, and geometric morphometrics methods(GMM).

Once the relationship between habitat, mobility and bone structure has been quantified, the information collected will be applied to faunal assemblages from Upper Palaeolithic archaeological sites in Southwestern France. Thus, this project proposes an actualistic approach that will allow us to reconstruct migratory patterns of Palaeolithic reindeer and how they affected human hunting strategies and socioeconomic decisions, which will enable us to better understand their behaviour and identify the precise role of reindeer in their economy.First preliminary results will be presented at CAA meeting.


10:30 AM: The Archaeoentomology of a Conflict Scene: Blow-Flies and Ectoparasites from Pre-contact (16-17th c. A.D.) Yup'ik Nunalleq, Alaska
Presentation format:
  • Véronique Forbes - Memorial University of Newfoundland
  • Jean-Bernard Huchet - UMR 5199 PACEA, Université de Bordeaux
  • Rick Knecht - University of Aberdeen

This paper presents the results of a pilot study that incorporates archaeoentomology in the investigation of a scene of indigenous conflict. At Nunalleq, a pre-contact Yup’ik site in southwestern Alaska, excavations revealed the remains of a large sod village that was abandoned following an attack. The final occupation layers are overlain by charred roof sods strewn with projectile points and shafts and associated with these deposits are the remains of some of the conflict victims. Although Yup’ik oral history contains numerous tales and legends associated with a period of intense violence, referred to as the ‘Bow-and-Arrow-Wars’, Nunalleq is the only site where evidence of this conflict has been extensively excavated. Archaeoenvironmental samples collected from archaeological layers contemporary with the attack produced hundreds of human and dog lice, fleas, as well as blowfly puparia. In an attempt to reconstruct the timing (seasonality), spatiality and sequence of events that characterised the attack on Nunalleq, we integrate the results of archaeoentomological analyses with other bioarchaeological (e.g. human hair, fur, coprolites) and artefactual (projectile points, pieces of clothing) data. Our results demonstrate how, by incorporating innovative methods in archaeological investigations of past violence, it is possible to reconstruct detailed, engaging and historically accurate narratives of past conflict based on physical evidence.

11:00 AM: When the Past is disturbed. Investigation of the archaeological potential of prehistoric deposits and bone assemblage from Sirogne Cave (Rocamadour, Lot, France).
Presentation format:
  • Benjamin Albouy - Département d'Anthropologie, Université de Montréal
  • Jean-Baptiste Mallye - UMR 5199 - Laboratoire Pacea, Université de Bordeaux
  • Stéphane Madelaine - Musée National de Préhistoire, Les Eyzies-de-Tayac
  • Bruno Maureille - UMR 5199 - Laboratoire Pacea, Université de Bordeaux
  • Priscilla Bayle - UMR 5199 - Laboratoire Pacea, Université de Bordeaux

Sirogne is a small cave located in the Alzou Valley in Rocamadour, Lot, Southwest of France. Attention was focused on the site in 2011 after the discovery of a Neanderthal mandible by a speleologist. Investigations, carried out since 2013, have produced numerous Neanderthal remains (dental, osteo-dental and infra-cranial), associated with a very large amount of faunal remains, and some lithic artefacts, potentially dated to the marine isotopic stage 6 (c. 191 000 - 130 000 years before present), prior to the last Interglacial. However, the initial deposits quickly revealed to be severely disturbed by biotic processes and ancient excavations. The aim of this study was to assess the informative potential of ubiquitous bone material in order to comprehend the formation of the site and more globally to complete our understanding of the early phases of the Middle Palaeolithic of the region, scarcely documented from an archaeological and palaeoanthropological point of view. A threefold analysis, combining methods in paleontology, taphonomy and zooarchaeology, was therefore conducted on a sample of about 3000 faunal remains. Even if the history of the site appears complex, it has been possible to already bring out several key components that contributed to the accumulation of bone material. Indeed, we have evidenced that the site served as a cave den for a few generations of cave bears, in particular for females and their offspring. It was also a settlement for prehistoric people and their subsistence activities, like butchery or bone industry.

01:40 PM: Phosphatic alteration of lead-rich glazes during two centuries of burial: Bartlam, Bonnin & Morris, and Chelsea porcelain.
Presentation format:
  • J. Victor Owen - Dept. of Geology, Saint Mary's University, Halifax
  • Jacob Hanley - Dept. of Geology, Saint Mary's University, Halifax
  • Joseph Petrus - Dept. of Earth Sciences, Laurentian University, Sudbury

Discoloured lead-rich glazes on phosphatic porcelain sherds from the sites of the Bartlam (Cain Hoy, SC),Bonnin & Morris (Philadelphia, PA) and Chelsea (London, UK) factory sites record the effects of alteration after two centuries of burial. The alteration presents as a dark brown to black scale on most samples.  Backscattered-electron images of this material show the development of Liesegang rings. Compared with their fresh counterparts, the altered glazes are variably but in some instances massively ( >90%) depleted in SiO2 and alkalis, and enriched in P2O5, CaO, PbO, and various trace elements, notably V. Some of the Bonnin & Morris samples have had bone ash components – especially CaO - leached from the now-porous phosphatic paste, so their CaO/P2O5 (molecular proportions) ratios (~2) are much lower than the relatively fresh Bonnin & Morris samples (3.1-3.5). The ceramic body is not, however the source of phosphate enriched in the altered glazes because phosphate enrichment characterizes glaze alteration even where there is no evidence of bone ash dissolution.  Glaze alteration is interpreted in terms of leaching (de-alkalization) and silica-network dissolution in the presence of subsurface alkaline aqueous fluids (pH >9).


02:10 PM: Palaeoenvironmental Analyses from Nunalleq, Alaska Illustrate a Novel Means to Date pre-Inuit and Inuit Archaeology
Presentation format:
  • Paul M. Ledger - Memorial University of Newfoundland
  • Véronique Forbes - Memorial University of Newfoundland

Arctic archaeology suffers from a series of unfortunate conjunctures that make accurate and reliable dating of the prehistory of circumpolar North America problematic. Through the late-prehistoric Yup’ik site of Nunalleq, this paper explores a novel approach to dating archaeological sites in the circumpolar north. Presenting data from a peat sequence associated with the archaeological site, we examine if a combination of palaeoenvironmental analyses, radiocarbon dating and Bayesian modelling can generate high-resolution chronologies for archaeological sites. The results indicate that archaeological events are resolvable in the palaeoenvironmental record and that the timing of such events illustrate a striking concordance with those derived from archaeological data. This paper highlights and recommends how palaeoenvironmental analyses can be deployed towards improving the chronologies of Inuit and pre-Inuit archaeology.

03:00 PM: Palaeoenvironmental DNA and its role in combating ‘heritage at risk’
Presentation format:
  • Tyler Murchie - McMaster University

Ancient environmental DNA (eDNA) preserved in disseminated materials (e.g. sediments, soils, ice, and palaeofaeces) has been shown to be a viable target for reconstructing a wide taxonomic breadth of ancient ecosystems in diverse depositional contexts. This is most remarkably true even in the total absence of surviving primary tissues from those organisms. Canadian archaeological sites are, on average, well suited to analyses of this kind with low mean annual temperatures facilitating ancient DNA preservation—being contingent, of course, on microclimatic conditions in the burial environment such as water/oxygen content, pH, and microbial communities. Ecologists are increasingly utilizing eDNA to monitor shifting contemporary ecosystems to mitigate the need for logistically burdensome ground surveys. For archaeologists, the systematic collection of environmental samples from sites at risk or from those being excavated has the potential to substantially increase our taxonomic resolution of ancient human ecosystems. However, these ancient biomolecules are not themselves impervious to degradation from shifting environments. Permafrost is particularly vulnerable in the Canadian north not only from thaw slump placing infrastructure and heritage sites at risk, but also for degrading the Quaternary molecular archives of exceptionally well-preserved ancient DNA therein. Here, I discuss how the collection of environmental samples for future analyses with ancient DNA techniques may help mitigate some degree of the information loss expected from ‘heritage at risk’ sites. As well as discussing a forthcoming lake sediment investigation as an example of the increasing analytic power of sedimentary ancient DNA methods.

03:30 PM: Inter-tissue variability in pathogen isolation: an ancient DNA case study
Presentation format:
  • Jessica Hider - McMaster University

ancient DNA (aDNA) pathogen research provides a unique line of evidence to study
infectious disease in the past. This method can be used to complement historical and
paleopathological evidence of disease, by supporting the presence of known or suspected
pathogens (e.g. Yersinia pestis, Mycobacterium tuberculosis). aDNA research also allows us to
explore questions concerning disease in the past that were previously considered unfeasible due
to skeletal and historical ambiguities. This includes identifying pathogens when skeletal
indicators are non-specific (e.g. Plasmodium falciparum) and uncovering information about
pathogen evolution and geographic spread (e.g. leprosy in Medieval Europe). While aDNA
methods have significantly contributed to our understanding of disease in the past, the impact
that sample choice (tissue type) has on pathogen isolation is poorly understood. It is possible that
poor sample choice may contribute to false negative results for pathogens, which complicates the corroboration of pathogen identification with skeletal and historical evidence. Inter-tissue DNA
variation has only been minimally explored; we present a novel examination of such variations
using an example of Brucella melitensis DNA isolation. We found substantial differences in B.
isolation in the tissues sampled and most of the DNA counts were too low for B. melitensis identification. In order to preserve archaeological collections and their associated cultural heritage while also exploring infectious disease in the past, researchers need to better understand the processes impacting successful pathogen isolation. This will aid in minimizing ineffective destructive sampling in the search for elusive pathogen DNA.