Adventures in Argentina, Part 2—A Zooarchaeological Conference in a Land of Great Natural Beauty

Argentina is a country that boasts a diverse range of beautiful landscapes and natural heritage, a glimpse of which I provided in my previous article. In this second and final entry about my time in this South American nation, I will broaden the view of northern Argentina’s natural splendour with some photos.

Collage: A lake surrounded by mountains, a lizard, a butterfly, a coati, Iguazú Falls.

Top: One of the many artificial lakes in Mendoza Province created by hydroelectric dams. These beautiful bodies of water provide a striking contrast to the desert that often surrounds them, but these dry lands host a rich diversity of animals. Centre left: A member of Iguazú National Park’s reptile fauna, the black and white tegu (Tupinambis merianae). Centre: An orsis bluewing butterfly (Myscelia orsis). Centre right: A ring-tailed coati or coatimundi (Nasua nasua), a close relation of the raccoon, that travels both on the ground and in the trees. Bottom: Iguazú Falls is definitely the realm of the ring-tailed coati. It is located in Misiones Province along the border between Argentina and Brazil. Notice the dark brown colour of the water, which 50 years ago ran clear but now carries a heavy sediment load from deforestation in Brazil. Images: Gregory Huyer © Gregory Huyer

I would also like to talk a bit more about the primary reason I travelled so far in the first place: the 12th International Meeting of the International Council for Archaeozoology, an event that takes place every four years.

As a doctoral student, I specialized in zooarchaeology (often referred to as archaeozoology in Europe, or more broadly—in both Europe and the Americas—as archaeobiology).

As the name suggests, zooarchaeology as a discipline involves zoological investigation as a means of addressing questions of archaeological significance.

For my dissertation work, I analyzed the animal remains found on five archaeological sites in northeastern Syria, all dating to the third millennium BC.

Collage: Many people stand on a hill in the distance, overhead view of workers and excavated structure walls.

Two early Bronze Age archaeological sites in northeastern Syria. Top: Excavations underway at Tell Raqa’i. Bottom: Excavation at Tell ‘Atij. The Khabur River, a tributary of the Euphrates, is seen in the background. Images: Glenn Schwartz © Glenn Schwartz, Michel Fortin © Michel Fortin

The resulting data were used to determine how domestic animals were managed and which wild species were hunted.

Such information—age of animal at slaughter, differences in the management of sheep versus goat herds, sex and age of wild species targeted by hunters, patterns indicating whether carcasses were butchered for meat or to obtain hides, etc.—permitted a reconstruction of the animal-based economy, which I used to evaluate the role of pastoralism and animal-derived products in the emergence of northern Mesopotamia’s first cities.

Collage: Three photos of excavated remnants of ancient structures.

Left: Foundations of mudbrick buildings exposed in the earlier occupation levels of Tell ‘Atij. Top right: Remains of the Round Building at Tell Raqa’i, an enigmatic structure with a rounded form and many small rooms and platforms believed to have served as a central storage facility for the ancient village. Bottom right: Image of the small building at Tell Raqa’i that likely served as a shrine for offerings and worship. Images: Michel Fortin © Michel Fortin, Glenn Schwartz © Glenn Schwartz

The Canadian Museum of Nature does not have an archaeology division and no longer has an active focus on zooarchaeological research, although we once did (perhaps the subject of a future post!), so my current research duties do not include any projects involving Near Eastern archaeology.

I was kindly granted the time off, however, to attend the conference and present the results of my graduate research. In addition, I was able to make some important contacts relevant to some upcoming zooarchaeological work that I hope to undertake at the museum.

Kathlyn Stewart, Ph.D., the head of our Palaeobiology Section, also has an interest in zooarchaeology. She participated in a five-year research project concerning the evolutionary origins of the hominids, the taxonomic group that includes the great apes and us humans.

As an expert in the palaeobiology of African fish, Dr. Stewart organized an investigation into the contribution of aquatic resources to the diet of our early human ancestors, and in particular how a shift to a menu rich in fish may have provided the biological impetus for the development of more complex brains.

I plan to join Dr. Stewart in a renewed effort to gather data on the use of fish by certain early hominid species. This will require access to good osteological comparative collections for African fish, as the museum does not have much representation of Old World taxa in its skeletal holdings. At the conference, I joined the Fish Remains Working Group and also spoke with representatives of various museums that house specimens valuable in the identification of East African fish species.

So, we are now well-poised to bring interesting zooarchaeological research back to the museum. Hopefully, I’ll be writing additional blog entries in the future concerning zooarchaeology.

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One Response to Adventures in Argentina, Part 2—A Zooarchaeological Conference in a Land of Great Natural Beauty

  1. Pingback: Of Fish and Men…Studying Fossil Fish in Ethiopia | Canadian Museum of Nature – Blog

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