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The University of Southampton
Archaeology Part of Humanities

New publication: Dale Serjeantson, 'Birds'

Published: 1 July 2009
Birds: book cover

Cambridge University Press have just published Birds in their series Manuals in Archaeology. It was written by Dale Serjeantson, an Honorary Research Fellow in Archaeology at Southampton.

In the preface to Birds she wrote:

‘When I started studying bird remains from archaeological sites in Scotland and England in the 1980s I would have been very grateful for a book which contained guidance on how to set about it and some ideas on how the bones might be interpreted. Later, when teaching the zooarchaeology of bird remains, I would also have found such a book very useful, so eventually I decided to write it myself’.

Birds is both a guide to how to identify and interpret bird remains and a synthesis of current research on the importance of birds and their feathers in human history and prehistory.

The early chapters of the book are practical. They summarise current knowledge on the identification of bird bones and on the significance of cut marks, natural damage and survival of the different parts of the skeleton. The chapter on bird bone tools and implements discusses the Palaeolithic bird bone flutes which are contemporary with earliest modern man in Europe. Feathers, (highly important in ritual and social activity the world over) and eggs and eggshell (very tricky to identify) are also covered.

Later chapters deal with subjects such as the importance of wild birds as food, the domestication of chickens and other birds, and the prehistory of hawking and cockfighting.

One chapter summarises the role of birds in early human history and another is concerned with the role of bird remains in reconstructing past environments: the ways in which their distribution has been affected by human predation and environmental and climate change.

Dale came to Southampton University in 1991 as head of the Faunal Remains Unit to carry out research in animal remains, but she also taught courses in animal bones and was one of the initiators of the MA in Osteoarchaeology. She has analysed bird bones from Scotland, England and Greece and has published studies of the significance of ravens in Iron Age ritual, the extinct great auk, the consumption of wild birds at Medieval banquets, and many other subjects.

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