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Written by: Nancy Moncrief
Monday December 7, 2015

Last week, I examined squirrel jaws in the archaeology collections at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History with VMNH Curator of Archaeology Dr. Elizabeth Moore and VMNH Research Assistants Liberty Hightower and Lucy Treado.  I usually study mammals (often squirrels) that are present in Virginia today, but I’m also interested in what these animals were like in the past. Sometimes archaeological collections have bones and teeth of animals that the Indians caught and ate.  I’m hoping to use these collections to learn more about the squirrels that were here before Europeans arrived in North America. 

Before she came to VMNH, Elizabeth worked at the Smithsonian, so she knew their collections have squirrel jaws and other bones from archaeological sites.  She made arrangements with James Krakker for us to examine and photograph some of them. Below is a photograph of Liberty using a camera/tripod setup to photograph the squirrel jaws.

Dr. Nancy Moncrief and Research Assistant Liberty Hightower.  Photo by E. MoorePhoto by E. Moore

The next photograph is a composite image of three photos.  Each of these photos shows the left half of a lower jaw.  The blue arrow points to the incisor.  An interesting feature of these jaws is that each of them was pierced (the red arrow points to the hole) so that it could be strung and worn as a pendant, either by itself or with others.  In total, more than 30 pierced squirrel jaws were found at this site.

Composite squirrel jaws.  Photos by L. HightowerPhotos by L. Hightower

Tags: Archaeology, Biology, Dr. Nancy Moncrief, Mammals, Research and Collections, Squirrel

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