Okay, I admit to being a little weird, perhaps, to get excited when a volunteer comes to the lab bearing a five gallon bucket full of frozen dead fish! The rockfish and perch that volunteer Christa Conant brought from the Calvert Marine Museum late last week are not headed for my table, or anyone else’s for that matter. They are destined to become part of the paleofaunal comparative collection at the MAC Lab.
So, why do these fish make me happy? Archaeologists find large numbers of animal bone—sometimes many thousands of fragmented bones—when they dig on residential sites. Correct identification of the bone (both what species and which skeletal elements are represented) are crucial for drawing conclusions about what people in the past ate, how they obtained their food, how it was prepared, and other questions related to diet. The Lab has a nice collection of mammals, birds and reptiles in its comparative collection, but does not have a lot of fish. Fish and other marine life have been important in the diet of Marylanders for thousands of years, so having a good fish bone collection is essential.
I might not have been so excited about the fish if I had been the one cleaning them, though. That task fell to Annette, Alex, Christa, and Ed. After removing most of the flesh from the fish, they wrapped the carcasses in cheesecloth and placed them in a wire cage. The cage was positioned in a not-too-close-by place in the woods for nature to have her hand in further cleaning the bones. After three or four months, we will be able to retrieve the cheesecloth wrapped parcels—discovering an intact skeleton which can be cleaned up a little bit more, labeled and made a part of the comparative collection.
I will look forward to more deliveries from Christa, but I’m not so sure about Ed, Alex and Annette!
Aren’t you glad there is no smell-a-vision with this blog?