Sociology and Anthropology
taphonomy, archaeology, Washington State, bird bones, bone element
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Tse-whit-zen is a large well preserved archaeological site that was discovered in August 2003 in the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State. By 2004 an archaeological dig crew was working tirelessly on the site, which turned out to be one of the largest Native American villages ever found in the Pacific Northwest. This village was shown to have been inhabited by the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe, whose descendants still continue to live in the region. The site was occupied for thousands of years, with the oldest material dated at 2,700 years ago and the youngest at 100 years ago when the village was buried under dirt and rubble. Excellent preservation at the site led to the discovery of 335 human burials, thousands of artifacts, and a multitude of mammal, fish, shellfish, and bird bones. Since 2011 research on the bird bones found at Tse-whit-zen has been going on at the University of Rhode Island with many of the bones already identified by element (i.e. humerus, femur, etc.) and taxa (i.e. duck, gull, etc.) by undergraduates and Professor Bovy. The Tse-whit-zen bird bones are currently the largest analyzed bird bone assemblage in the Olympic Peninsula.
Taphonomy is the study of the processes that affect animal remains after their death, including human butchering, animal gnawing, or natural processes. Taphonomic evidence on bones, including burning or cut marks, can show cultural aspects, such as how food was cooked and processed by people in the past. The main question focused on in this study is how the people of Tse-whit-zen cooked and processed the birds that were available and whether these activities varied by taxa or element. In this report a subset of the entire Tse-whit-zen avian assemblage was analyzed. Each bone was studied for taphonomic markers, such as burning and cut marks, all of which were recorded in a database, which also included the catalog number and provenience of each bone.
I observed several different types of modifications during data collection. Burning is the most frequent of all modifications observed, including burning along the broken shaft of limb bones, such as humeri. There are also several instances of cut marks on the bone as well as a few marks that may have been created during the process of disarticulating the bird carcass. These results are summarized and quantified in the report by type of modification, kind of bird, and skeletal element. Furthermore, the results of the burning on the bones are then compared to the frequency and location of burning noted in other analyzed bird bone assemblages in the surrounding areas of the Tse-whit-zen site. The evidence for processing and cooking of birds at Tse-whit-zen is summarized within the context of the site and the larger Northwest Coast region.