Fish bones are amongst the most difficult category of animal bones to identify - there is quite large abundance of species, there is morphological overlap and tere are quite a few differences based on the age and the size of the fish, ignoring all pathological individuals.

While this is not a taxonomical product, it is meant to be a visual encyclopaedia of fish morphology and to address questions that are interesting to zooarchaeologists. Fish bones are fragile and the recover ability is greatly affected by sampling strategies and screening procedures. Further difficulties can arise from taphonomic factors such as soil pH and fragmentation levels.


Method of Specimen Preparation

The main problem in preparing a specimen consists in removing the bones from the carcass, when not enough time had passed by from the time of death to the time of specimen preparation. Since we are considering mostly archaeological finds, natural decay works its way on the specimen-to-be.

In instances where one deals with a fresh or relative recently dead specimen, the most common methods are:

1) Maceration – specimen is placed in water in a sealed glass container and the flesh allowed to decay off from the bone. It is very important to avoid the putrid liquid which is poured off at the end of the process (Michael Barber)

2) Natural decay – the specimen is buried in the soil for an approximately time interval to allow the flesh to decay; the bone is then exhumed.


Preparing a comparative collection

A comparative collection is essential in zooarchaeology. An extremely important aspect is that in building comparative collections the material must have been identified accurately before preparation, in order to avoid bone mixing. In the preparation process, the following points should be observed:

1). Sex, age, weight and dimensions of the animal must be recorded and any other details that might prove useful (Jennie Coy)

2). A well built collection should have specimens covering all age ranges as well as belonging to both sexes

3). The bones should be disarticulated with clean articular surfaces

4). The skeletons of the major species should be as complete as possible

5). For the specimens originating from an archaeological site a rigorous recording of the archaeological layer must be observed

6). All bones removed for further study should be properly labelled

7). The materials that will not be used right away must be maintained in their original bags for continuous preservation


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