One of the primary aims of the E’se’get Archaeology Project is to understand the economic and spiritual relationships between ancient Mi’kmaq and the other animals that inhabited the South Shore ecosystem. Shell middens are perfect archaeological deposits to explore these relationships because the calcium carbonate in bivalve shells leaches into Nova Scotia’s normally acidic soils, preserving vertebrate remains in excellent condition.
For several years I have been working with colleagues at Idaho State University to produce an online vertebrate reference collection to aid in the identification of animal bones from archaeological sites. VZAP replicates all of the functionality of a real vertebrate reference collection by providing high resolution 2D images and 3D models of the skeletons of northern fish, bird, and mammal species. The website is designed to provide an aid to researchers with incomplete collections or who are in field situations where reference collections are not available. We have been using VZAP to make some preliminary identifications of the animal bones coming from the middens; these identifications assists us with selecting bone for dating purposes (terrestrial mammal bone often gives more accurate radiocarbon dates) and aids our ongoing assessment and interpretation of site function and seasonality in the field.
This specimen will undergo further comparison in the lab, but this quick analysis provides a good basis for identification. VZAP is an evolving database, which currently includes nearly two hundred species of mammals, birds, and fish. You can discover more about VZAP, and test it for yourself, by visiting the website: it is free for researchers and the general public to use and explore.