Identifying Animal Species in the Angel Mounds Collections via Teeth

by Maclaren Guthrie

Color, close up image of the front of an animal skull
Fig. 1 Raccoon cranium (Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology, 2019)

Hi everyone, it’s Maclaren Guthrie back with another blog post! This time I’m excited I get the opportunity to talk about something that’s really of interest to me lately – identifying animal teeth.

Though this rehousing angel mounds project is all about the physical rehousing and conservation of the angel collection, we do see a lot of really interesting artifacts in our daily routines. This first segment of the project is focused on the packing crates of moldy bones due to our method of need-oriented rehousing. While our main task is to locate mold and deal with it and the task of putting these artifacts into new bags and boxes, a lot of us can’t help but try and figure out what type of animal’s bones we may be looking at.

For me, I’ve been particularly interested in the identification of animals by their teeth. We find quite a few teeth on a day to day basis, which is really cool and helps to show what species were hunted, eaten, or present in the lives of the Mississippian people at Angel Mounds. Teeth are a great way to identify this information because teeth are less likely to decay because of their density.

Multiple mandibles (jaw bones) in a line vertically
Fig. 2 Various animal mandibles (Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology, 2019)

Prior to this project, I was not the most experienced in identifying animal teeth with the exception of cows and pigs due to their common presence on historic archaeological sites. Lucky for this project we have Amanda Burtt, a zooarchaeologist, on staff to help us with our identification questions – which we have lots of.

So far, the most common animals we have been rediscovering in the collections are raccoons, deer, and fish which is unsurprising for the most part. We have definitely found some other cool species in the collections through identifying teeth, such as bear, river otter, opossum, dog, beaver, bobcat, and various rodentia. We’ve also found multiple bird beaks.

Image of the front of a bobcat jaw bone, has pointed front tooth
Fig. 3 Partial bobcat mandible (Glenn A. Black Laboratory of ARchaeology, 2019)

Identifying animals, specifically by just looking at teeth or possibly a mandible, can include a few different strategies which can really depend on experience in working with faunal remains. For me personally, as I don’t have much experience in this area as of now, I go through a little flowchart in my head to help me narrow down what animal the teeth could belong to. First, the size – this is a helpful observation that should start me off in the right direction whether I am looking at just a tooth or a mandible with or without the teeth still attached. Next, I look at the shape of the tooth. If it has a mostly flat crown I know it could be a molar, if it’s long and pointed it could be a canine, etc. Knowing what kind of tooth you’re looking at is important because the shape of that specific tooth gives you an idea of what type of animal that would have a tooth that looks like that – i.e. a wolf would have larger canine teeth than a raccoon, or a carnivorous animal like a dog would not have flat-topped molars like herbivores like deer or omnivores like humans. Having multiple teeth together, perhaps still in a mandible, is even easier since you can tell whether or not the individual was homodont (one type of teeth) or heterodont (multiple types of teeth) which would also allow us to tell what the animal could have eaten and therefore give us hints to what species the animal may have been. Fortunately for us, Amanda Burtt also brought a handy comparative collection that can help with this process for teeth and other animal bone identification.

Gloved hand holding a partial deer jaw bone, teeth are much flatter than bobcat
Fig. 4 Partial deer mandible (Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology, 2019)

Teeth are also helpful in ageing an animal. For example, we can tell whether or not an individual is a juvenile or adult based on if the teeth are deciduous “milk” teeth or permanent dentition since most mammals are diphyodont and have two sets of teeth throughout their life. Another way teeth can be aged is due to wear – it seems only logical that the more worn a tooth is the older the individual would have had to been to have used it enough to wear it down. There can be other factors that effect this, though, as different diets wear teeth differently. An example of this in the Angel Mounds rehousing project is various raccoon molars, usually still attached to the mandible, have been noted to have very worn down molars. This could mean they were older or they could have been eating a harsher diet that was harder on their teeth.

Raccoon jawbone on table, teeth are short but pointed
Fig. 5 Raccoon mandible with worn molars (Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology, 2019)

A lot of information can be gained by studying animal teeth that can then help us better understand the people of Angel Mounds and beyond. Knowing the species, and sometimes age and diet of said animals, gives us more of an insight into the daily lives of the animals and the people they most likely came into contact with. Teeth are a great resource to use since they are often found in the archaeological record.

Mapping the Past at Angel Mounds with Geographic Information Systems

By David Massey

Image of a man standing in front of artifact boxes, smiling at camera
Image of David Massey (August 2019)

Hello! I’m David Massey, and I am a PhD Candidate in the Department of Geography at Indiana University. This summer I was working in the Glenn Black Lab rehousing faunal materials from Angel Mounds as part of the “Saving America’s Treasures” (SAT) project. It was fascinating to see the range of faunal material coming from the site, from the tiniest rodent teeth to drumfish jaws and deer antlers.

My research focus is on the use of remote sensing technologies to investigate archaeological sites. Remote sensing is a broad term that refers to the non-invasive acquisition of information about a physical landscape. While most remotely sensed data comes from satellites or aircrafts, drones fly much closer to the Earth’s surface and are able to collect finer resolution data. Archaeologists are increasingly using drones to survey landscapes for this reason. I’m currently working on a project at Angel Mounds using Light Detecting and Ranging (LiDAR) topographic models derived from an aircraft and a drone. This will help us understand the labor involved in constructing the mounds and what this tells us about the degree of social complexity among the inhabitants.

We’re very fortunate that Glenn Black had the foresight to systematically excavate Angel Mounds. After excavating at Nowlin Mound in 1934-1935, Black (1936) wrote that “if the results of any excavation are to provide an unimpeachable historical record of a prehistoric work, too much stress cannot be placed upon methodical technique and exactness of detail, no matter how trivial the feature may be.” This attention to what some at the time deemed trivial details enables archaeologists to discover and examine spatial patterns in the archaeological record through a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) database today. GIS is an essential tool for archaeologists because it allows for the analysis and visualization of large amounts of spatial data.

10 by 10 grid with numbers along each side, represents subdivison X11C
Example diagram of Angel Mounds subdivision X11C (Massey 2019)

Glenn Black divided the entire site into Subdivisions, Blocks, and Depths. Each Subdivision is a 100 x 100-foot square.  Within each Subdivision is one hundred 10 x 10-foot Blocks. Each Block is labeled from 0 – 9 along the y-axis and into Left and Right from 1 – 5 on the x-axis. Each Block is additionally separated into 6 categories of depth in feet: 0.0 – 0.4, 0.4 – 0.8, 0.8 – 1.2, 1.2 – 1.6, 1.6 – 2.0, and 2.0 – 2.4.  All this information can be displayed in GIS as a shapefile. A shapefile stores information about specific geographic features such as their location, shape, and attributes.

Satellite image of Angel Mounds with red boxes drawn over the top, locating relevant subdivisions for rehousing in 2019.
Locations of subdivisions on satellite image of Angel Mounds (Massey 2019)

This past summer we rehoused faunal material from 17 different Subdivisions. These records get updated in a Filemaker database and form the basis for the GIS database. The naming conventions of fields within the GIS and Filemaker database become very important at this point, because at least one must match for the data to be imported and joined correctly.

Below is an example of one Subdivision our team worked on this summer.

Aerial image of Angel Mounds subdivision X11C, with blocks of varying levels of black to represent concentrations of faunal materials rehoused in 2019.
Visual representation of faunal items rehoused from X11C (Massey 2019)

Subdivision X-11-C contains 1,936 faunal records and 88 of 100 Blocks currently have data associated with them. The total weight of all bone within X-11-C is 573.6178 kilograms, while the average weight of bone across all X-11-C Blocks is 5.86082 kg. It’s possible to see concentrations of bone across this Subdivision. In Figure 6, darker shading indicates a higher standard deviation across this Block compared to the mean (5.86082 kg), while lighter squares indicate lower standards of deviation. Depth information, which has not been added yet, would provide more chronological insight.  Moving forward, we hope to have all excavation data in a GIS database to conduct more sophisticated spatial analyses of faunal, lithic, and ceramic material to help us better understand the landscape around Angel Mounds. 


References:

Black, Glenn A. (1936). Excavation of the Nowlin Mound: Dearborn County Site 7, 1934–1935. Indiana History Bulletin, 13(7), 197 – 342.


MORE ABOUT IMLS

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s libraries and museums. We advance, support, and empower America’s museums, libraries, and related organizations through grantmaking, research, and policy development. Our vision is a nation where museums and libraries work together to transform the lives of individuals and communities. To learn more, visit www.imls.gov and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

(The views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this blog post do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.)

Curating Angel Update: Freshwater Drum Fish

by Samantha Schlegel

Image of Samantha on the left of the statue which stands several heads taller than her.
Samantha next to statue of Hatshepsut at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (July 2019)

Hello Everyone! My name is Samantha Schlegel! I am a new member of the SAT/IMLS funded Curating Angel. I am working as a Curator’s Assistant. I have had a great time wearing a mask and sorting faunal bones for the end part of my summer. I am currently an undergraduate at Indiana University Purdue University in Indianapolis. I am studying Art History and Museum Studies.

This project has given me so much learning experience in what goes on behind the scenes in museums and archaeology labs which I can take into the field once I earn my Bachelors. I am hoping to be back for next summer and cannot wait to continue on the next few parts of this project which includes ceramics and lithics. Personally, I cannot wait to look at the ceramics and see what they used to decorate them, as well as what type of designs may be on the ceramics. There is always something new to find and something new to learn, which is why I am so interested in the rehousing project. Not only do I learn something new about an artifact each day, I get to explore part of history as well.

Sketch of a freshwater drum fish in color
Freshwater drum fish (image via Wikipedia)

As a member of this team, I have gotten to sort through many types of faunal bones and was not quite sure what I would find. We have found tons of different bones and it is always fun to ask Amanda Burtt (Associate Curator for the rehousing project) what bones belong to each animal. But recently, I have found an interesting bone that I had never really seen before. It belongs to the Freshwater Drum fish. These bones are called pharyngeal bones. They include lots of different molar like teeth that help the Freshwater Drum eat its meals. The question that came with this was why do we have so many of these bones among our faunal bones? Also, what did the Mississippians use Drum fish for? So today, you guys get to explore that with me!

Let’s start with some of the fast facts about the Freshwater Drum fish. The earliest written data for the Freshwater Drum fish was created in the late 1800s. Their native range is from the Midwest region straight down through some of the southern region of the United States. They are primarily found in clear water, large rivers and small, shallow lakes. They are “bottom feeders” meaning their diets include mollusks, insects, crayfish, minnows, amphipods, and the younger drum eat zooplankton. Their best known food to eat now is the zebra mollusk which is an invasive species here in the United States. Its predators include bigger fish and humans. The Freshwater Drum fish can range up to 10 to 14 inches in length. They can live around 6 to 13 years. They spawn during May and June laying up to 600,000 eggs. I did find out in some later research that in today’s world, Freshwater Drum fish are not very appetizing. They are not really used for table food due to their meaty consistency and taste. This fact created more questions as expected from such a weird fact.

Moving onto my questions: why do we have so many of the Pharyngeal bones in our faunal bones? What did the Mississippians use Drum fish for? What if the Mississippians didn’t eat the meat, then who did they give it to? Beginning with the first question, we find tons of the Pharyngeal bones among the bone artifacts for the rehousing project. They range in multiple sizes, probably from baby drum to adult drum sizes. From what I have read in other archaeological research, there were two possible hypotheses for the use of Freshwater Drum fish. One of the hypotheses was the usage of their vertebrae; there was a calcium deposit that was used for jewelry. I personally do not feel this hypothesis makes sense, due to the amount of fish vertebrae we find but also the lack of evidence that supported it. The second hypothesis talked about the Freshwater Drum fish otoliths. Otoliths are a unique ear bone. Today people find these otoliths and call them “lucky stones”. They are used for jewelry today, and the hypothesis also suggests that they may be used for jewelry. The issue I am facing is that we have not seen a single otolith among our bone artifacts.

The information I have found has led me to create hypotheses for some of the questions I started with in the beginning. One hypothesis I have thought of is that because Freshwater Drum fish are not known for eating, they may have fed that meat to their domesticated animals (dogs). My second hypothesis is that we may find the otoliths among the stone artifacts. We sadly won’t know this until we get into those artifacts, which may be next summer, but it will be on our radar! Hopefully we will have more updates on the Freshwater Drum as we continue the rehousing project and definitely will find more interesting bones as we go!


MORE ABOUT IMLS

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s libraries and museums. We advance, support, and empower America’s museums, libraries, and related organizations through grantmaking, research, and policy development. Our vision is a nation where museums and libraries work together to transform the lives of individuals and communities. To learn more, visit www.imls.gov and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

(The views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this blog post do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.)

Importance of the Petrous Temporal Bone

by Anne Hittson

Hello! My name is Anne and I have been a collections assistant on the rehousing of Angel Mounds since June 2019.

Anne in her hometown of Anchorage, Alaska in July 2019

I graduated with a BFA in Sculpture from Rhode Island School of Design in June 2018. My studio practice and academic study explores the interrelations of objects—ancient and contemporary, and language—written, spoken, and visual. I believe the study of visual communication of and through art and artifacts offer an incredible understanding of human development and culture. I have always asked: “What can these objects tell us?” for the making of objects communicate so differently than spoken or written language.

I am studying to be a Speech Pathologist. I wish to further explore and understand the different layers of how spoken and written language operates in our brain, the developmental stages we go through in exercising it, and what happens in our brain when we do not exercise it. I am excited to learn about the plasticity of our brain, because it is, figuratively and literally, one of the most flexible and softest organs in the body.

While working on the rehousing of Angel Mounds project, I have grown accustomed to handling and learning about faunal bones, and have been most interested in one of the densest bones in the body, which is so near to the soft brain that it is almost poetic: the petrous temporal bone of the white-tailed deer.

Petrous part of temporal bone fragment of white-tailed deer

The petrous temporal bone is wedge-shaped and roughly has a diameter of a quarter. It is technically a part of the temporal bone which is situated on either side of the skull that houses the structure that forms the middle and inner ear.

As a visual artist, I was drawn to its organically odd shape and my ignorance of understanding its anatomy. There are shallow depressions that spiral into deep cavities, small pockets of air that appear delicately thin, but the bone is indeed incredibly hard. Each one I come across is slightly different in length, width and texture of surface – some are ribbed, while others appear smooth and polished. I deeply appreciated learning of the delicate labyrinth that this small bone held within it.

Within the petrous part, sound waves are transmitted from air to the fluid-filled cochlea or inner ear. Quite generally, they do so as vibrations through canals, cavities and along auditory nerves in the brain that all work harmoniously to activate our registry of sound.

Petrous bone still attached to temporal bone of white-tailed deer

Furthermore, it is the density of the petrous bone that makes itself unique to scientists and researchers in DNA studies. Compared to other bones, DNA of the petrous bone is not easily degradable through soil and wear and because of the prolonged decay of bone induced by its density, it is one of the most widely used sites to study DNA.

I regularly come across petrous bones while working on the rehousing of Angel Mounds. It is oddly satisfying to spot them with their peculiar shapes and textures and with so many found at the site of excavation, it is exciting to think of the possibility of using them for DNA research. If conducted, this research could tell us more than what we can see with our eyes and would be an enormous and exciting investigation of faunal life at Angel Mounds.

Integrating the Mixed Materials of the Angel Mounds Collection

by Ryan Edward Peterson

Ryan with some of the rehoused Angel collection

Hello everyone! My name is Ryan Peterson. I am a member of the crew that has been working hard all summer on the Angel Mounds rehousing project here at the Glenn Black Lab. As a member of the “Saving America’s Treasures” (SAT) team I have spent my summer decked out in gloves and a mask rehousing, conserving, and reintegrating the Angel Mounds collection.

I am a second year PhD student at Indiana University. My focus is on Great Lakes archaeology, specializing in the production, procurement, and exchange of native copper on islands and coastlines in the Upper Great Lakes. The isolation of these raw resources spurs me to study the question of how copper from the Upper Great Lakes has been found dispersed in a variety of places, including Angel Mounds. As a Great Lakes archaeologist, the movement of people, especially over large bodies of water, is another important facet of this area of study. This movement links directly with the use and exchange of Native copper throughout the region.

Currently, the rehousing team is working our way through the faunal bones from Angel Mounds. These materials are purposefully being rehoused first, due to the degree of mold that has grown on the materials (in comparison to the rest of the collection). We have a saying at the GBL, “the worst goes first!” We prioritize our rehousing and conservation based on the artifacts that have the greatest need.

As the team goes through bag after bag, and box after box of bone, we continuously find more than just bone in these bags. In these bags, along with the bone, we find a mix of many other materials, such as pottery, lithics (stone), wood, and other materials that were mistaken for bone when the original WPA workers roughly sorted the artifacts. As the original WPA workers learned how to identify one artifact from another, they slowly became more efficient at distinguishing artifacts. This was a trend noticed as the rehousing team at first found a large amount of mixed materials in the early boxes of bone, but the amount of mixed materials slowly tapered down as the experience of the WPA workers went up.

Identifying these mixed materials can be quite a challenge to the untrained observer. When attempting to distinguish these materials from one another, two of the biggest clues are the texture and weight of the artifacts. Wooden artifacts are light in weight and contain a grain-like structure. Lithics, in contrast, are heavier than the average bone, but their smooth surface can be deceiving when compared to long bone fragments. Ceramics at Angel Mounds are tempered with shell (temper is added into the clay and helps strengthen the pottery during firing). This shell tempering is very distinctive and can help identify an artifact as ceramic even if its shape is deceiving. It is common to find ceramics formed into not only vessels, but also effigy figures. Many of these figures, especially when broken, can bear a shocking resemblance in shape to bone.

After these artifacts are pulled from their incorrect bags, the mixed materials are removed, labeled, and placed aside. The rehousing team then goes through the Angel Mounds catalog system to determine where other materials from the section that the original bone was in are located in the Angel Collection. These artifacts are then organized by their new location and placed in what should have been their correct location. As these artifacts are placed into their temporary new location, we often rediscover new things in the multitude of boxes that are being opened. This process is referred to as reintegration. The reintegration of these materials into the larger Angel Collection as a whole allows for a more accurate curation and management of materials, along with creating the potential for more accurate collections-based research.

Unpacking the Animal Life of Angel Mounds

by Amanda Burtt

Hello All! My name is Amanda Burtt and I am one of the newest members of the IMLS funded Curating Angel project that is underway right now. My job as Associate Curator for the rehousing project includes helping lead a team of graduate and undergraduate students in the many steps involved in transferring the Angel Mounds archaeological collections from their original storing containers to archival grade curation bags and boxes.

In addition to working for the Glenn A. Black Laboratory on the Angel project, I am also a PhD candidate in the Anthropology Department here at Indiana University. I am an archaeologist with a specialization in zooarchaeology. Zooarchaeologists analyze animal remains (bones, teeth, shells, fur, etc.) from archaeological sites to better understand ways that people interacted with animals in the past, which can vary greatly, from food resource to companion to deity. My dissertation research investigates the diets of domestic dogs in Precontact North America. I am able to examine dog diets by employing Dental Microwear Texture Analysis (DMTA), which evaluates the surface of a tooth to determine what kinds of food textures a dog is accessing. This method can determine if dogs are heavily processing bone for nutrition, a sign of food stress. This method has allowed me to quantify when dogs are allowed access to flesh or cooked foods or are utilizing lower quality foodstuff (i.e. bones).

Amanda smiling toward camera, sitting in front of computer screens depicting graphic data
Amanda Burtt at Vanderbilt University’s Dietary Reconstruction and Ecological Assessments of Mammals Laboratory, dog tooth scan in the back. (2018)

Lucky for me, the Angel curation project began with re-housing the fauna remains recovered from Angel Mounds. Which means I get to spend my work days opening bags (some haven’t been opened since their original bagging in the 1940’s) and seeing the remains of animals that shared the landscape with Indigenous communities that occupied Angel Mounds hundreds of years ago. My research interests extend beyond dogs; I am also interested in ways that humans in the past interacted with carnivores more broadly. One of the fascinating things I have observed while rehousing fauna remains is the abundance of raccoons (scientific name Procyon lotor) in the Angel Mounds assemblage. Since my first day working with the Angel Mounds fauna, I noticed evidence of raccoons from all parts of the skeleton, including teeth, skulls, long bones, and even the baculum (which is a bone found in the penis of many placental mammals).

Raccoon skull resting in gloved palm
The cranium of a raccoon (Procyon lotor), recovered from the Angel Mounds site during excavations in the 1940’s and being rehoused as part of the Curating Angel project. (2019)

The mandible (lower portion of the skull) is a bone that is both recognizable and dense enough to survive the deposition and excavation processes. We have found many mandibles belonging to raccoons and the following image shows two (circled in the picture). Of interesting note, the left mandible exhibits extreme dental wear when compared to the one on the right. You will notice that the molars of the left raccoon appear flat while the mandible on the right still has prominent cusps. Also, both mandibles are from the right side meaning there are at least two raccoons represented in this subsample. This is a quantification method that zooarchaeologists use called MNI (minimum number of individuals).

Artifact tray filled with bone material, jaw bones are circled
Two raccoon mandibles. (2019)

Like dogs, raccoons also belong to the taxonomic order Carnivora. Though also like dogs, raccoons tend to be omnivorous as they will seek out food resources that are available and usually do not pass up the opportunity for a meal. We have seen many worn molars from raccoons while rehousing the Angel fauna, which has me wondering why. My current theory is that the residents of Angel Mounds were keeping the predator population in check and raccoons were able to survive well into adulthood resulting in elder raccoons with advanced worn teeth. This theory is among many that my coworkers and I hypothesize while working side by side rehousing animal bones. Though there is evidence of predators among the assemblage, including black bears and bobcats, their remains do not compare to the amount of raccoons we are finding. We will keep thinking on theories and keep you posted!

More About IMLS

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s libraries and museums. We advance, support, and empower America’s museums, libraries, and related organizations through grantmaking, research, and policy development. Our vision is a nation where museums and libraries work together to transform the lives of individuals and communities. To learn more, visit www.imls.gov and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

(The views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this blog post do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.)