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Title: Commensal or comestible? : the role and exploitation of small, non-ungulate mammals in early European prehistory : towards a methodology for improving identification of human utilisation
Author: Howard, Wendy June
ISNI:       0000 0004 2749 7010
Awarding Body: University of Exeter
Current Institution: University of Exeter
Date of Award: 2013
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Small mammals, namely those species larger than microfauna like rats and murids but smaller than medium, sheep-size fauna, are generally one of the less studied areas of zooarchaeology. While this may be partly influenced by modern cultural biases, it is more often because finding small, rabbit-sized, mammal remains in archaeological deposits presents a problem in accurately differentiating between those arising from natural, biological and anthropogenic agencies. This thesis tackles this subject using a synthesis of different methods, examining the exploitation and role of small, non-ungulate mammals in early Western European prehistory by combining existing ethnographic knowledge and archaeological research with actualistic experiments and bone assemblage analysis. It first presents a detailed summary of the various taphonomic effects on bone from natural, biological and human action, with particular reference to those of small mammals, using empirical evidence to describe the processes and likely resultant effects. Small mammal utilisation is then contextualised using archaeological and ethnographic evidence to examine past and present practices in Europe and other areas of the world. Different acquisition methods, such as hunting and trapping, are described, and using small mammals for dietary and non-dietary purposes is outlined, along with the rationale for such utilisation given their size. Also considered are other, more abstract ideological and symbolic roles they fulfilled within different cultures, whether physically using parts of the animal, or conceptually. To extend the existing methods available to zooarchaeologists, and improve identifying human exploitation of these species, the ‘chaîne opératoire’ of small game use is examined from an osteological perspective, starting with acquisition, through processing, cooking and consumption to discard, using a series of experiments and microscopic analysis to explore potential bone modification signatures and fracture patterns arising from such activities. Finally, it places these results into broader context by comparing the fracture patterns with bones from British and North American archaeological sites, to demonstrate that similar changes can be seen.
Supervisor: Outram, Alan K. Sponsor: Arts and Humanities Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Small mammals ; Zooarchaeology ; Experimental archaeology ; Ethnography ; Taphonomy ; Bone modification ; Fractures ; Prehistory ; Europe ; North America ; Pueblo