Artifact Processing: Animal Bones

Team members Sarah Beste and Slava Pallas have been working hard this summer to clean and inventory 3 large boxes of previously unstudied faunal remains (animal bones) recovered during the RenCen excavations 40 years ago.  In the process of their work, Sarah and Slava – both of whom have interests in bioanthropology – are referencing past work completed on part of the collection  by Wayne State Anthropology collaborator and University of Michigan Alumnus, Karen Mudar. The inventory and processing that they are currently undertaking is a first step in their longer-term research study of 19th-century dietary practices and foodways related to the artifact remains recovered from a couple of the households and business formerly located in Sector J where the 100 Tower of the RenCen stands today.  

Sarah Beste and Slava Pallas work hard washing artifacts

Sarah Beste and Slava Pallas work hard washing artifacts

This post outlines the initial processing steps Sarah and Slava are following in their return to the faunal remains. First, they start by cleaning an artifact with a dry brush to get as much dirt of as possible.  Faunal remains should not get wet, as water could weaken the bone’s structure and wash away important residues that remain trapped in the cracks and cavities of the bones. Sarah and Slava wear masks when cleaning to protect themselves from inhaling the dirt and dust coming off the bones.

photo 1-1

An example of labeling an artifact with its catalogue number.

Next, using the Museum’s cataloging system, they assign each artifact an inventory number.  This number is then written onto the bone by felt tip pen over a line of clear nail polish.  This is a number resembling xxWxxx which can be broken into two parts. The first,  xW or xxW, identifies the type of artifact. For example 3W is Faunal remain while 10W is photographs and 11W is written manuscript. The second part ranging from 1-6 numbers is the artifact specific identification number.  This number is based on the order in which it entered the collection (the smaller the number the earlier the artifact entered to collection).  To the right you see artifact 3W509415 meaning this is a faunal remain (3W) and the 509415 to be added to the entire museum collection.


Our PastPerfect Software.


After the artifact is numbered and labeled, the information is added into PastPerfect, our museum’s catalogue software. Our digital catalogue allows researchers to search for and locate artifacts.


Even with the large quantity of faunal remains that have entered into past perfect, Sarah and Slava are only at the beginning of their research.
In the next month or so, once their inventory of the boxes of faunal remains is complete, Sarah and Slava will begin more detailed analysis on identifying the animals – and certain parts of them – from the bone fragments. Armed with this information, Sarah and Slava will then be ready to compare their findings both to the historical information about Sector J that our project’s archival researchers are compiling, and to other published studies on faunal assemblages in urban settings. Eventually, they hope to figure out how the faunal remains from the Ren Cen reflect certain dietary practices, socio-economic conditions, and trade practices in 19th century Detroit.  Be sure to check in on our progress as we update throughout the summer to see what they have discovered.

photo 4

Comparing artifact to readings in order to identify.

Mudar, Karen (1977) “ Renaissance Center Salvage Project: Faunal Remains Technical Report.” Unpublished manuscript on file at WSU Museum of Anthropology. [# 11W279]

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

EDIT: 7/16/2014 11:52:16 am

4 thoughts on “Artifact Processing: Animal Bones

  1. Pingback: Recovering the Uncovered: Exploring the Importance of Collection- Based Research | Unearthing Detroit

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