A Month of Bones, Labs, and Latino Conservation Week

Tuesday, August 02 2016 Written by
I spent the majority of this month preparing for the Latino Conservation Week outreach event at Mission San Jose. For the event, we coordinated with a group of Girl Scouts from Westside San Antonio, to put up several activities that kids could do to earn a Girl Scout patch or a Junior Ranger Historic Preservation badge. I prepared a hands-on activity about zooarchaeology (the study of animal bones found at archaeological sites), using a collection of animal bones that had been excavated from in front of the Mission. The bones had been excavated when a sewer was being repaired and were never analyzed, so before I could use them for the activity I had to identify the bones in the collection. To do so, I took the bones to the Center for Archaeological Research at the University of Texas at San Antonio, so that I could use their comparative collection of animal bones to find out what I was looking at. IMG_20160705_100151 As expected, the majority of the bones in the collection turned out to be from cattle. During the Mission period, each Mission ran a large ranching operation with thousands of head of cattle, raising the animals for meat as well as hides and tallow for candles. However, some of the other bones I found (belonging to deer and bison) suggest a continuation of native hunting practices at the Mission and/or trade links with natives in the area. With access to the comparative collection I was able to complete an analysis of the bones and chose about 12 samples that the public could interact with. The next step was creating a binder with pictures of the bones as well as text explaining which animals they were from and where in the body they came from. That last bit is important in zooarchaeology because in societies marked by inequality, the most desired parts of the animal usually end up in the trash deposits of those who were well-off, while lower-status people usually only had access to tougher cuts of meat. Even though it was a hot Saturday morning, I got around 20 visitors to the park at my table in addition to the girl scouts who were there for the event. Happily, the day of the event coincided with Rodrigo Otarola y Bentin’s site visit, so he was able to help out at my table. I had a lot of fun sharing my love of archaeology with the kids who stopped by, and I could tell even the adults got a lot of enjoyment out of being able to actually pick up and examine real archaeological bones. Since we saved all of the materials I made for the activity, I will be able to run it again in October for the Park’s annual “Archaeology Day.” DSC_0876 cropped
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