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Written by: Liberty Hightower
Tuesday February 10, 2015

In late January, Ray Vodden and I went to a farm to retrieve a dead cow. That’s right… a dead cow. Not just any dead cow, but one that had died a month prior.

Why, you ask? Great question! The curator of archaeology, Dr. Elizabeth Moore, is a zooarchaeologist. This means most of her work involves dealing with skeletal remains found in archaeological sites. She takes them to the lab and identifies them down to species. This allows scientists to better understand what the people of that site were eating. Some of the most helpful tools in identifying skeletal remains are known skeletons that she can compare them to. This collection of animal bones is referred to as a reference collection.  Here is where our cow comes into play as the reference collection needed a cow skeleton.

The morning of the big event started with us having to retrieve the cow from where it died. As luck would have it, the cow decided to go down into a small creek to die. Since standing in a foot of water was not how we wanted to process this cow in the 40 degree weather, the owner of the farm, his bobcat, and a truck helped to slowly pull the cow out of the creek and into the pasture area. From there, it was up to Ray and I to skin, gut, and de-flesh the cow as much as possible so it would fit in the freezer, and later the beetle tank. Thankfully, the really cold temperature of the winter had kept the cow from rotting and we were relieved to find that it was not very smelly at all. The hardest part of the process was removing the very large and very full stomachs (yup, cows have more than one!). We ended up having to remove all the hay and manure from the cow’s stomachs before being able to physically lift the guts out of the cow! In the end it took two days to finish the job and get the cow back to the museum.

The pictures below show you the different stages of cow dissection (not for the faint of heart!).  At one point there were 12 turkey vultures circling overheard. I thought it looked pretty neat with the moon in the background. They left when they saw we weren’t going to leave and let them dine.

Photo by L. Hightower.

Photo by L. Hightower.

Photo by L. Hightower.

Photo by L. Hightower.

Photo by L. Hightower.

On a more happy, warm fuzzy note, one of the angora goats on the farm had just given birth to the most adorable kid (term for a baby goat) on the planet. For whatever reason, the mother rejected the kid and she needed to be taken away to be raised by bottle feeding. This meant that I got to hold, cuddle, and bottle feed this precious new life. See the adorable picture below.

Photo by L. Hightower.

 

Tags: Archaeology, Biology, Identification, Liberty Hightower, Research and Collections

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