Archaeozoology combined with GIS analyses to study ancient accumulations of animal bones

Picture of researcher classifying animal bone remnants

Dr. Lídia Colominas working on a Roman animal bone assemblage

Animal bones from archaeological sites are the remnants of a wide range of activities. They are usually leftovers from domestic meat consumption, although they can also be butchery deposits; waste from activities linked to hide preparation; or ritual deposits, to name only some of the possibilities. During the Roman period, large deposits of bones were accumulated as waste from those activities. Studying these deposits and their formation will shed light on the forms of occupation and exploitation of this territory.

However, some bone deposits are difficult to classify, and the parameters that define each of them are not clear. It is the case of a singular deposit documented at the Roman villa of Vilauba, located in a small valley 3 km south of Lake Banyoles (Girona, Catalonia). The Museu de Banyoles team together with the ICAC have recently been working with a unique 187m2 pit that contained 783 cattle remains, which are the focus of our latest research published in Animals.

Ground plan of the pit in the Roman villa of Vilauba (figure from Colominas, L. et al. 2021)

The complex depositional sequence of the remains, with multiple superimposed individuals, required a particularly exhaustive and accurate archaeological field record in order to allow the spatial restitution of the deposit and its formation process. The application of a contextual taphonomy approach, with the integration of archaeozoological variables, stratigraphy and context, and a GIS analysis, was the key to document the nature and formation of this singular assemblage, composed by the carcasses of 14 cattle individuals.

To find out what the 14 cattle were doing in a pit: :

Colominas, L.; Castanyer, P.; Frigola, J.; Tremoleda, J. What Happened in That Pit? An Archaeozoological and GIS Approach to Study an Accumulation of Animal Carcasses at the Roman Villa of Vilauba (Catalonia). Animals 2021, 11, 2214.

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