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Horse Bones, Chicken Bones… and Some Mystery Bones!

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.

Our excavations in northern Peru have been producing fascinating ancient bones. PAZC excavations at the Colonial settlement of Carrizales have been turning up some mysterious animal material, pictured below.

In some areas of the Colonial site, it seems that some people were eating better than others! One context we are currently analyzing is from a trash dump (food midden) of a possible Spanish priest. Right now, we are in the process of identifying what types of animals the priest was eating. It will be interesting to see whether he had access to different and possibly more exotic foods than the local people did. He may have also been consuming more of the choicest, tastiest cuts of meat. Comparing the diet and food practices of Spanish officials with that of the local people living at Carrizales will help us shed light on what daily life was like for many different people during the early Colonial Period in Peru.

A variety of animal bone fragments from a food midden/domestic waste dump at Carrizales. (Photo by Sarah Kennedy)
A variety of animal bone fragments from a possible Spanish priest’s food midden/domestic waste dump at Carrizales. (Photo by Sarah Kennedy)

Some specific faunal finds we have made recently have been from European-introduced domestic animals! We have found the remains of pigs, sheep and goats, chickens, and geese at Carrizales. We recently found the remains of horses (see photo below) and cows. While the cow femur we found had cut and butchery marks (indicating consumption), the horse tooth we found does not, so we cannot say whether or not the horse was indeed consumed at the end of its life.

Ventral view of an equid tooth (horse, donkey) found in the Colonial sector of Carrizales. (Photo by Sarah Kennedy)
Ventral view of an equid tooth (horse or donkey) found in the Colonial sector of Carrizales. (Photo by Sarah Kennedy)

Another interesting find at Carrizales has been egg shells. The preservation in the dry desert of the Northern Coast of Peru is so great that we can even find egg shell fragments, which are typically quite delicate to preserve. Most likely, the eggs shell fragments from our excavations are from chickens or geese (or possibly from wild marine birds such as cormorant or booby), but we cannot be sure—turtles also lay eggs! The only way to be sure would be to run DNA analysis on the shell fragments… something for future research.

Remains of eggs shells found at the site. Egg shells are hard to identify to a certain class (Aves, Reptilia, etc.) without using DNA. (Photo by Sarah Kennedy).
Remains of eggs shells found at the site. Egg shells are hard to identify as a certain class (Aves, Reptilia, etc.) without using DNA. (Photo by Sarah Kennedy)

Analysis of faunal material at Carrizales has also turned up some exciting mystery bones! Pictured below, we have encountered five small mystery bone fragments from a different sector of the Colonial site (not the food midden). Each mystery bone is a little over two millimeters long and are all somewhat similar in shape and form. Hopefully another scientist or zooarchaeologist will have encountered bones like these in their work and will be able to help us in our investigations as well!

Small, mystery bones found in the Colonial sector of Carrizales. (Photo by Sarah Kennedy).
Small mystery bones found in the Colonial sector of Carrizales. (Photo by Sarah Kennedy)
Another view of the small, mystery bones found in the Colonial sector of Carrizales. (Photo by Sarah Kennedy).
Another view of the mystery bones found at Carrizales. (Photo by Sarah Kennedy)

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