Caprine Butchery and Bone Modification Templates: A step towards standardisation

Peter Popkin

Institute of Archaeology, University College London, 31-34 Gordon Square, WC1H 0PY London.

Cite this as: Popkin, P. 2005 Caprine Butchery and Bone Modification Templates: A step towards standardisation, Internet Archaeology 17.


Widely accepted zooarchaeological procedure for recording butchery marks and other types of bone modification involves two processes: Drawing the bone showing the exact location and orientation of the modification and recording all of the information about the bone and its modification into an electronic database. No recording templates have ever been published, however, resulting in individual zooarchaeologists repeating the effort of developing their own templates or drawings for each bone in an assemblage showing a modification. Both of these tasks are time consuming and lead to inconsistencies in recording and quantification methods.

To help alleviate this problem a series of caprine (sheep and goat) bone templates have been created. These templates show every bone in a goat skeleton, apart from the skull, from six views at life-size when printed on A4 paper. They have intentionally been produced with a minimum of detail (without shading or stippling etc.) so that the recorded butchery marks and bone modifications will be clearly visible. Because the skeletal morphology of sheep and goats is so similar these templates may be used interchangeably for either species. They may also be used for many other artiodactyl species such as cattle and deer as no scale has been indicated.

The study of butchery marks and bone modification has the potential to provide zooarchaeologists with information about taphonomy, site formation processes, burial/ritual practices, human behaviour, ancient technologies and possibly ethnicity amongst other things, but only if the recording of these bone modifications is undertaken in a standardised fashion across the field. While much effort has been directed towards standardising the recognition and classification of various bone modifications, the recording of these modifications regularly occurs in various ways. Using standardised recording templates will save valuable time and help to alleviate problems of data comparability between researchers.

The templates provided may be printed, or downloaded for later printing, and drawn upon manually, or they may be manipulated digitally or incorporated into an existing zooarchaeological recording database (for example the York System, Harland et al. 2002). While the author realises that it is unrealistic to expect established zooarchaeologists to give up familiar recording practices, these templates at least provide a workable alternative as well as eliminate the necessity for new zooarchaeologists to create their own.

Harland, J.F., Barrett, J.H., Carrott, J., Dobney, K., Jaques, D., 2002. The York System: An Integrated Zooarchaeological Database for Research and Teaching. Internet Archaeology 13.

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