Identifying Archaeological Bone via Non-Destructive ZooMS and the Materiality of Symbolic Expression: Examples from Iroquoian Bone Points

Krista McGrath, Keri Rowsell, Christian Gates St-Pierre, Andrew Tedder, George Foody, Carolynne Roberts, Camilla Speller, Matthew Collins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Today, practical, functional and symbolic choices inform the selection of raw materials for worked objects. In cases where we can discern the origin of worked bone, tooth, ivory and antler objects in the past, we assume that similar choices are being made. However, morphological species identification of worked objects is often impossible due to the loss of identifying characteristics during manufacture. Here, we describe a novel non-destructive ZooMS (Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry) method which was applied to bone points from Pre-Contact St. Lawrence Iroquoian village sites in southern Quebec, Canada. The traditional ZooMS technique requires destructive analysis of a sample, which can be problematic when dealing with artefacts. Here we instead extracted proteins from the plastic bags in which the points had been stored. ZooMS analysis revealed hitherto unexpected species, notably black bear (Ursus americanus) and human (Homo sapiens sapiens), used in point manufacture. These surprising results (confirmed through genomic sequencing) highlight the importance of advancing biomolecular research in artefact studies. Furthermore, they unexpectedly and exceptionally allow us to identify and explore the tangible, material traces of the symbolic relationship between bears and humans, central to past and present Iroquoian cosmology and mythology.

Original languageEnglish
Article number11027
Number of pages10
JournalScientific Reports
Volume9
Issue number1
Early online date30 Jul 2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2019

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