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Sorting the butchered from the boiled

Koon, H., Collins, M.J., Covington, T. and O'Connor, T.P. (2010) Sorting the butchered from the boiled. Journal of Archaeological Science, 37 (1). pp. 62-69. ISSN 0305-4403

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Is it possible to identify cooked, rather than burnt, bone? Mild heating (≤100 °C,1 h) – typical of cooking – does not lead to detectable changes in any biochemical parameter of bone yet measured. If it is only possible to detect charred bone, how is it possible to detect cooking in the archaeological record? In a previous paper (Koon et al., 2003, J. Arch. Sci.), we used a Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM) based approach to investigate changes in the organization of the bone protein, collagen, as it is heated, using bone from heating experiments and short term burials. The work revealed that mineralized collagen, despite requiring aggressive treatment to gelatinise the protein (e.g. 90 °C, 240+ h), readily accumulates minor damage. We believe that the presence of mineral matrix stabilises the collagen enabling the damage to accumulate, but preventing it from causing immediate gelatinisation. Once the mineral is removed, the damage can be observed using appropriate visualization methods.

In this paper the visualization technique was tested in a blind study of bovine bone from the Anglo-Scandinavian site of Coppergate, York. The purpose of the study was to determine if the method could discriminate between bones thought likely, on the basis of zoo-archaeological and spatial evidence, to have been cooked (high meat yield bones from a domestic context) and those which were butchered but unlikely to have been cooked (low yield bones from a butchery site). The results of the TEM analysis identified two clear groups of bones, one set more damaged than the other. This finding was consistent with archaeozoological interpretation, with the exception of one bone from the domestic context, which was not identified as having been cooked.

Item Type: Article
Institution: The University of York
Academic Units: The University of York > Archaeology (York)
The University of York > Biology (York)
Depositing User: York RAE Import
Date Deposited: 04 Aug 2009 12:23
Last Modified: 14 Jul 2010 10:42
Published Version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2009.08.015
Status: Published
Publisher: Elsevier Science B.V., Amsterdam
Identification Number: 10.1016/j.jas.2009.08.015
URI: http://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/6567

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