The archaeological study of animal remains, known as zooarchaeology, provides insights into the relationship between humans and animals in Ontario throughout history. The use of animals and their remains by humans in Ontario can be traced back thousands of years, and the evidence reflects changes in technology, subsistence strategies, and cultural practices over time.
Antler Comb – Lawson Site
Modified Long Bone (981-5 706)
Unmodified Long Bone (not an artifact)
Bone Harpoon (AiGx-12 7HTI-2261)
5000 BCE to 1610 CE
Nomadic hunter-gatherer societies often relied on a variety of animals for subsistence, including fish, mammals, and birds. Bones, antlers, and teeth were used for tools, such as bone points and antler harpoons.
Over time, people began to congregate in larger groups and build longer-term settlements, and the animal remains associated with these settlements reflect other changes in subsistence strategies such as the introduction of cultivated crops. Animals continued to be significant both as a source of food as well as raw materials, with new tools developed to assist in harvesting and processing of agricultural foods. Some animals, such as dogs, turtles, bears, and others, had special cultural significance and the treatment of their remains can reflect their roles.
1610 CE to Present
The introduction of metal tools and European goods impacted the ways in which animal resources were exploited and processed by both Indigenous peoples and settlers. European trade goods, including metal tools, influenced the utilization of animal remains for different purposes, and the use of animal remains for tools ultimately diminished. Many Indigenous and other communities in Ontario continue to use animal remains for various purposes, including tools, art, and more.
Colonial settlers also introduces new animals to the continent, including domesticated species like horses, cows, pigs, sheep and chickens, as well as invasive animals like brown rats and grey squirrels which can all be found in archaeological contexts.
Materials often mistaken for animal remains:
Many different objects and materials are often mistaken for animal remains. It’s important to remember that objects only become archaeologically significant once they’ve been used and/or manipulated by humans, or if they are found in an archaeological context. Below is a list of materials that get confused for archaeological animal remains:
- Concretions: These are compact masses of mineral matter that may resemble bones or other organic materials. They form naturally and can sometimes have a shape reminiscent of fossils.
- Mineral Deposits:
- Nodules: Hard, rounded masses of mineral deposits may be mistaken for fossils or artifacts. They form through natural geological processes.
- Weathered or Altered Rocks:
- Chert, Flint, or Other Stone: Naturally occurring stones, especially those with conchoidal fracturing (similar to the way flint breaks), can be mistaken for artifacts, such as tools or projectile points.
- Natural Bone or Antler:
- Non-artifactual Bones: Bones from non-human animals that were not modified by humans can sometimes be encountered in unexpected contexts. Deer shed their antlers naturally each year, and animals come to natural (and unatural) ends in many different manners and locations. Bone found above ground is unlikely to come from archaeological contexts unless it has been expose by processes such as erosion or digging. In these cases, it is likely that you will find other things that indicate the presence of an archaeological site.
- Plant Material:
- Roots or Woody Material: Intricately shaped roots or woody fragments can occasionally resemble modified or worked artifacts.
- Naturally Shaped Stones: Rocks or stones that have naturally acquired a shape resembling tools or artifacts, known as geofacts, can be mistaken for intentionally modified items.
- Recent Debris:
- Modern Debris: Contemporary materials, such as trash or discarded items, may be mistakenly identified as archaeological artifacts if not properly contextualized.