Prehistoric and historical insights in avian zooarchaeology, taphonomy and ancient bird use

Document Type


Publication Date



The study of bird bones from archaeological sites, ornithoarchaeology or avian zooarchaeology/archaeozoology focuses on the study of past bird-human relationships (Davis 2012; Morales-Muñiz 1993; Reitz and Wing 1999; Bartosiewicz 2001, 2008; Serjeanston 2009). Studies of bird remains in prehistory and history or avian zooarchaeology appear in many contexts, including as musical instruments (Morejohn and Galloway 1983), cultural symbols, art and iconography (David 1989; Sparkes 1997), tools (Olsen 1979), adornment with feathers (Berdan 2006), food (Peterson 1973), ethnology (Rea 2007) and medicine (Bezerra et al. 2013). Bird bone identification and chronicling domestication history demands the development of studies in comparative osteology (Cohen and Sergeanston 1996; Gilbert et al. 1996), pathology (Shufeldt 1893; Brothwell 2002; Gál 2008a, 2008b, 2013) and identification and ancient DNA studies (DeCupere et al. 2005; Camilla et al. 2010). Depositional histories, preservation biases and distinguishing of cultural from noncultural modification rely on taphonomic investigations (Bickart 1984; Ericson 1987; Livingston 1989; Bocheński 2002; Bovy 2002). All these topics are of research interests that can involve field excavation, actualistic study or experimentation, and ethnoarchaeology and ethnographic evidence, as well as laboratory analysis (Serjeanston 1998; Best and Mulville 2013; Soma 2013; Gomes 2016).

Treatises addressing the topic of avian zooarchaeology include Grigson and Clutton-Brock (1983), Purdue et al. (1991) and Serjeantson (2009) and works presented at the Bird Working Group (BWG) Meetings of the International Council for Archaeozoology (Serjeantson 1994; Archaeofauna 1993(2); International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 1997(7); Acta Zoologica Cracoviensia 2002(45, special issue); Grupe and Peters 2005a; Prummel et al. 2010; Bejenaru and Serjeantson 2014). In January 2016, the 8th BWG Meeting was held at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV), Edinburg, TX, USA. The meeting was hosted by the Department of Biology, College of Sciences, and the Office of Sustainability. Researchers from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, the UK, the USA, Mexico, France and Argentina gathered to present findings and participate in birding events. The Lower Rio Grande Valley (Starr, Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy counties) provides habitat supporting about 520 resident, migratory and rare bird species, almost half of the 1114 recorded occurring in the USA as a whole. The presence of many tropical bird species encourages birders to visit in large numbers. Regional ecotourism that includes birding generated (as of ca. 2010) more than $300 million in local yearly revenue (Woosnam et al. 2011; Leslie 2016). We review the articles resulting from this first meeting in the USA and place them in contexts of taphonomy, hunting and domestication, and prehistoric and historic bird use.


Reprints and Permissions

Publication Title

Archaeol Anthropol Sci