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Written by: Elizabeth Moore
Wednesday April 30, 2014

An earlier blog post  described the reconstruction of a canid skull from an archaeological farmstead site in Delaware dating from the 18th-19th centuries. Ray Vodden has been refitting the many fragments and will be constructing a mount to protect it in storage. We are hoping that when the refitting is complete, we may be able to determine if this individual is dog or wolf. As Ray was working with the cranial pieces, he noticed some unusual marks on the exterior surface of the bone. We often see markings on bone: sometimes they are left by rodents or larger carnivores chewing on bones, sometimes they are left by insects consuming the surface of the bone, and sometimes they are left by humans when butchering an animal. Each one of these taphonomic processes leaves a distinctive kind of mark. In order to determine what type of mark was on the surface of this canid cranium, we examined the fragment under a microscope and took a photograph of the marks, which you can see below.

 Closer examination of the canid (dog/wolf)  skull currently being reconstructed at VMNH shows butchering scars on the cranium.

These marks are clearly cut marks made with a knife blade – they are narrow and v-shaped in cross-section, there are multiple marks parallel to each other, and you can even see some cut marks where the knife slipped and left a curvier impression. That leads us to another question – why did someone butcher a canid at this farmstead? Was it a wolf being skinned for the hide? Was it eaten? There are some documented cases of dog consumption in most time periods, but those are often associated with periods when food is scarce and traditional food options are not available, such as on the Lewis & Clark expedition. As with most scientific work, we are left with more questions than answers.

Tags: Archaeology, Dr. Elizabeth Moore, Identification, Reconstruction, Research and Collections