Week two of my research trip to the National Museum of Scotland found me working under the supervision of Dr. Matthew Knight (for a brief summary of the goals and objectives of my research trip, check out my blog post from the first week). This week was focused on the human remains from the Sculptor’s Cave, arguably the most famous of all of the Covesea Caves.
As long-time followers of this project may know, human remains is not my expertise. Although I am trained in human osteology, I am primarily a zooarchaeologist, which means I am mostly concerned with animal remains. However, here lies the most interesting aspect of my PhD research: I will be approaching the human remains from a zooarchaeological perspective, which may provide different features of note than what a human osteologist may see.
My main goal is to see where the human remains show similarities to the faunal remains – whether that it is the texture, colour, treatment, etc. These similarities (and differences) will help me better understand the funerary rituals that these Later Prehistoric peoples would perform, and how non-human species were utilised alongside their human ancestors. More broadly, I hope these comparisons also tell me a bit more about the relationships between humans and non-humans in the past, and what role the Natural played in their rites.
My comparative assessments were run similarly to the ones I had recently undertaken on the Broxmouth Hillfort faunal remains – I took notes on the physical characteristics of each group of bones and rated some of them based on a set of criteria that I developed prior to the assessment. However, for the human remains, I found myself taking much more detailed notes on taphonomic features – specifically, anthropomorphic modifications (aka cuts, marks, and chops made by humans) and pathological evidence (aka signs of disease, trauma, injury, etc.). These particular characteristics will be especially important in the overall interpretation of the Covesea Caves, revealing more about the individuals who were laid to rest in these caves and how their living ancestors interacted with the dead.
So…now what? Well, now that I’ve got the last of my data, I’ll be spending a lot of time comparing and contrasting my results with the other assemblages. Sounds easy, but it will take many, many, many hours of developing new theories and looking up similar research. So stay tuned – I’m hoping to continue my blogging as I start the final year of my PhD research!
Comparative analysis has been made possible by funding from the following organisations: