Dr. Ed Jackson is a professor of anthropology in the Southern Miss Anthropology and Sociology Department. His specialty is the prehistory of the southeastern United States, and his particular interest is in looking at the way prehistoric people used animals, which provides valuable insight into the economic and social practices of the time.
Dr. Jackson has been excavating the Winterville Mounds near Greenville, Mississippi, since 2005. He and the students in his fieldwork class sift through the mound in one meter square patches, in 10 inch deep intervals. Everything they find is carefully packed up and meticulously labeled, so when they begin to examine the artifacts back at the lab, they know the exact location and depth at which each item was found.
Once the artifacts have been collected and packed up from the site, they're brought back to the zooarchaeological research lab on the Southern Miss campus for a closer look. Dr. Jackson was kind enough to invite us back to the lab to see how the artifacts they find are processed and identified.
Before any excavation begins, sites are carefully plotted, and the walls of the lab are covered with detailed maps and charts.
Soil samples collected from excavation sites are processed through a sluice (left) to separate out carbonized plant remains for analysis.
Pottery fragments being examined, measured, and meticulously labeled.
A student is examining pottery fragments and sorting them by the type of materials that have been mixed into the clay which can give important clues about their use and the time period they're from.
Beautifully decorated pottery shards—one, the researcher show us, is in the shape of a bear.
Many of the fragments collected from excavation sites are animal bones. To make it easier for students to identify what kinds of bones they've found, the lab maintains an extensive collection of modern animal bones for comparison.
The animal bones used in the lab come from animals that died of natural causes or were killed on Mississippi's highways. The carcasses are collected and transported to an open field where they are left to be picked clean by scavengers. Once the animals have been reduced to skeletons, the bones are brought back to the lab, boiled, and then carefully packed in ziplock bags. They're all carefully labeled and stored in a cabinet for easy access.
I asked Dr. Jackson if students had to compare every bone they found to all the different animals in the lab (!), and he said that once you've been doing it for awhile, you get a feel for it. He walked over to a pile of bones and started identifying them by sight. "These, for example, are obviously fish bones." To me, they looked just like some of the squirrel bones I had previously been admiring, but this was my first foray into animal bones. Clearly more research is needed.
To learn more about anthropology at Southern Miss, visit the Anthropology & Sociology website.
Courses taught by Dr. Jackson:
ANT 101. Human Experience
ANT 331. Survey of Archaeological Methods
ANT 433/533. Prehistoric Southeastern Indians
ANT 435/535. Archaeological Field Methods
ANT 431/531. Advanced Prehistoric Analysis
ANT 437/537. Heritage Resources and Public Policy
ANT 631. Graduate Seminar in Archaeology
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