by Bernard K. Means, Project Director
While their fellow students were studying for exams and writing papers, Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) students Mariana Zechini and Ashley McCuistion joined me for a three-day excursion last week (May 7-9, 2013) from Richmond to the Virginia Museum of Natural History (VMNH) in Martinsville, Virginia. This state-of-the-art facility houses some spectacular fossil remains–including skeletons of dinosaurs and whales–but, more importantly from our perspective, an extensive collection of animal bones in the form of comparative collections, and also animal remains recovered from archaeological sites. Zooarchaeologist Dr. Elizabeth Moore, Curator of Archaeology at the VMNH, graciously opened up her collections and gave freely of her time while we were there. This is not my first visit on behalf of the Virtual Curation Laboratory to the VMNH–last August I came here and borrowed a raccoon skeleton that Mariana has been diligently scanning.
Our purpose this trip was to obtain passenger pigeon bones recovered from the Graham-White site, an American Indian village site located along the Roanoke River near Salem, Virginia. Passenger pigeons were once a staple of American Indian and later European/American diets–until they were driven to extinction in the early 20th century. Their bones are likely found at many archaeological sites. Sadly, passenger pigeon skeletal remains are absent from most comparative collections. Thus, we at the VCL jumped at the chance to obtain some bones for scanning when this was suggested by Dr. Moore. Our goal will be to create virtual models that can become part of a digital type collection used by archaeologists who lack access to actual bones from passenger pigeons.
Dr. Moore also took the time to speak with Mariana and Ashley–this was particularly important for Mariana as she has developed her own interest in zooarchaeology. Both also have blogged about their experience: Mariana at: http://theanthrolife.wordpress.com/2013/05/12/ive-got-a-bone-to-pick-with-you-three-days-of-scanning-at-virginia-museum-of-natural-history/
and Ashley at: http://diganthro.wordpress.com/2013/05/12/day-one-year-two/
As happened the last time I was at VMNH, I was able to show Dr. Moore a plastic replica of a worked bone artifact–this was a pierced bone identified as coming from a bear that was once used in the cup-and-pin game. By comparing the replica to a deer phalanx and a human phalanx, Dr. Moore concluded that the bone actually probably came from an elk. We scanned the deer phalanx while we were at VMNH, as well as a pathological deer bone consisting of a rib fused to a vertebra, while Dr. Moore was interviewed by Mariana and filmed by Ashley. We hope to have some of this film up before the summer is over.