The Application of Geometric Morphometrics to Zooarchaeological Specimens
Supervisor: Dr Fiona Beglane
Funding Body: IRCHSS
Throughout human history domesticated animals were used for a variety of purposes including cattle for milk, meat, leather and labour; sheep for meat, milk and wool; and pigs for meat and leather. The study of the identification, analysis and interpretation of animal remains recovered from archaeological sites has long been employed to investigate many aspects of human behaviour including subsistence techniques, animal domestication, seasonal site occupation, exchange and trade relationships, social status, ethnicity, cultural preferences and the ceremonial use of animals.
The morphology or shape of animal bones preserves different biological information in an organism including sex, size, stature, diet, behavioural factors and evolutionary development. Since the process of animal domestication began, the morphological changes in animals took place mostly as a response to human interference with animals. These variations can serve as signatures of animal husbandry and selective breeding.
For this project, geometric morphometrics is being applied to animal bone samples recovered from archaeological excavations from the Early Medieval through to the Post-Medieval periods, examining changes in animal husbandry during this time period. It is proposed to carry out research into the application of geometric morphometrics to these zooarchaeological specimens with the aim of investigating aspects such as breed development and introduction, sexual dimorphism, and species differentiation.
Application of geometric morphometrics in combination with statistical analysis to zooarchaeological specimens allows for more complete understanding of morphological variations in animal bones. This, in turn, will bring greater understanding of the processes of domestication, species identification, breed development etc. In short, breed development and introduction often point to such aspects as manipulating animals for specific purposes, animal trade and exchange. Determining sexual dimorphism in domestic mammal zooarchaeological assemblages indicates types of economies, for example, dairy or beef production, and whether or not intensive farming took place. Species differentiation permits closely-related species such as sheep and goats, ponies and donkeys and wild horses and domestic horses to be distinguished, and therefore aids the correct interpretation of zooarchaeological assemblages.