National Geographic
Menu

Zaña Colonial Excavation Updates!

Sarah Kennedy is a zooarchaeologist investigating the lives of native Peruvians under Spanish rule in their colonial period. By analyzing the remains of animals in past settlements, she is able to piece together a mosaic of knowledge about how ancient people lived.

Excavations at the Zaña Colonial Archaeology Project are on a roll! In addition to animal remains, which is what I study, we have been uncovering a wide range of other artifacts such as stone tools, ceramic plates and jars, shell and glass beads, and even human remains. Some of the most interesting finds, such as human hair, rope, and textiles have been preserved by the dry, arid climate of Peru’s Northern Coast.

Peruvian archaeologist Karen Durand carefully works at preserving textiles found at Carrizales excavations. (Photo by Sarah Kennedy
Peruvian archaeologist Karen Durand carefully works at preserving textiles found during excavations. (Photo by Sarah Kennedy)

Once archaeologists in the field uncover and excavate the different artifacts, they are sent back to our laboratory for cataloging and conservation. At the end of the project, all of the material is then submitted to Peru’s Ministry of Culture. While some archaeologists argue that the most exciting part of our job is excavating and finding artifacts, I think that conservation and analysis of the actual archaeological artifacts is even more exciting. Here, we get to see objects up close, looking for minute details that can tell us more about the lives of the ancient people we study.

Textile remains, with a colored stripe design, found in recent excavations. (Photo by Sarah Kennedy)
Textile remains, with a colored-stripe design, found in recent excavations. (Photo by Sarah Kennedy)
Various boxes of artifacts coming out of the field. Remains include animal bones, botanical remains, human remains, and ceramics. (Photo by Sarah Kennedy)
Various boxes of artifacts coming out of the field. Remains include animal bones, botanical remains, human remains and ceramics. (Photo by Sarah Kennedy)

We have been collecting animal remains from the site in two different ways. First, all the bones that we find in field excavations (either in situ or in a screen) are bagged and then sent to the lab for analysis. The other way we are collecting micro-faunal artifacts is by taking systematic soil samples of different areas of our excavation and then fine screening the soil samples in the lab with small, graduated screens (1–2 mm mesh). This extra screening is very important to zooarchaeological work, especially because the people we are studying were fishermen and consumed a diet rich in fish and marine life. Many fish bones are very small and can easily slip through field screens or go by unnoticed by field archaeologists. In the lab, we have the opportunity to see what we may have missed in the field—micro-bones, which are revealing that these ancient fishermen were eating a large quantity of small anchovies!

Karen Durand uses a digital microscope, obtained through National Geographic funding, to view the small inner ear bone (otolith) of a fish. (Photo by Sarah Kennedy)
Karen Durand uses a digital microscope, obtained through National Geographic funding, to view the small inner ear bone (otolith) of a fish. (Photo by Sarah Kennedy)
Close up view of small, micro-artifacts, only a few millimeters in size. These remains include vertebra of small anchovies, as well as inner ear bones (otoliths) of other fish species. (Photo by Sarah Kennedy)
Close up view of small, micro-artifacts, only a few millimeters in size. These remains include vertebra of small anchovies, as well as inner ear bones (otoliths) of other fish species. (Photo by Sarah Kennedy)

With more excavation units opening up and more material coming into the lab, it will be really exciting to see what sorts of discoveries will be happening at the Zaña Colonial Archaeology Project!

Read More by Sarah Kennedy