• Digitising and Image-Processing of Radiographs to Enhance Interpretation in Avian Palaeopathology.

      O'Connor, Sonia A.; O'Connor, T.P. (2005)
      Although the study of palaeopathology is less developed for avian bones than for human or other vertebrate remains, skeletal pathologies have been noted in the bones of a range of bird species of all periods, from many parts of the world. Such studies make use of x-radiographs as an aid to differential diagnosis, to image features of the pathology that may not be apparent to the unassisted eye. Bird bones are often thin yet highly mineralised, and offer a particular challenge to the radiographer. Conventional medical or veterinary radiographic techniques are not optimal for ancient material, yet are commonly applied. Here we show that the quality of the x-ray image can be greatly enhanced by applying quite simple techniques. Furthermore, digitisation of the x-radiograph allows commercially available image manipulation software to be used to add further enhancement and to explore specific details of the image. We demonstrate the use of these techniques in the investigation of a number of avian palaeopathology specimens.
    • Exceptional preservation of a prehistoric human brain from Heslington, Yorkshire, UK

      O'Connor, Sonia A.; Ali, Esam M.A.; Al-Sabah, S.; Anwar, D.; Bergström, E.; Brown, K.A.; Buckberry, Jo; Collins, M.; Denton, J.; Dorling, K.; et al. (2011)
      Archaeological work in advance of construction at a site on the edge of York, UK, yielded human remains of prehistoric to Romano-British date. Amongst these was a mandible and cranium, the intra-cranial space of which contained shrunken but macroscopically recognizable remains of a brain. Although the distinctive surface morphology of the organ is preserved, little recognizable brain histology survives. Though rare, the survival of brain tissue in otherwise skeletalised human remains from wet burial environments is not unique. A survey of the literature shows that similar brain masses have been previously reported in diverse circumstances. We argue for a greater awareness of these brain masses and for more attention to be paid to their detection and identification in order to improve the reporting rate and to allow a more comprehensive study of this rare archaeological survival.
    • Sorting the butchered from the boiled

      Koon, Hannah E.C.; O'Connor, T.P.; Collins, M.J. (2010)
      Is it possible to identify cooked, rather than burnt, bone? Mild heating (≤100 °C,1 h) – typical of cooking – does not lead to detectable changes in any biochemical parameter of bone yet measured. If it is only possible to detect charred bone, how is it possible to detect cooking in the archaeological record? In a previous paper (Koon et al., 2003, J. Arch. Sci.), we used a Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM) based approach to investigate changes in the organization of the bone protein, collagen, as it is heated, using bone from heating experiments and short term burials. The work revealed that mineralized collagen, despite requiring aggressive treatment to gelatinise the protein (e.g. 90 °C, 240+ h), readily accumulates minor damage. We believe that the presence of mineral matrix stabilises the collagen enabling the damage to accumulate, but preventing it from causing immediate gelatinisation. Once the mineral is removed, the damage can be observed using appropriate visualization methods. In this paper the visualization technique was tested in a blind study of bovine bone from the Anglo-Scandinavian site of Coppergate, York. The purpose of the study was to determine if the method could discriminate between bones thought likely, on the basis of zoo-archaeological and spatial evidence, to have been cooked (high meat yield bones from a domestic context) and those which were butchered but unlikely to have been cooked (low yield bones from a butchery site). The results of the TEM analysis identified two clear groups of bones, one set more damaged than the other. This finding was consistent with archaeozoological interpretation, with the exception of one bone from the domestic context, which was not identified as having been cooked.
    • Technological Analysis of the World’s Earliest Shamanic Costume: A Multi-Scalar, Experimental Study of a Red Deer Headdress from the Early Holocene Site of Star Carr, North Yorkshire, UK

      Little, A.; Elliott, B.; Conneller, C.; Pomstra, D.; Evans, Adrian A.; Fitton, L.C.; Holland, Andrew D.; Davis, R.; Kershaw, Rachael; O'Connor, Sonia A.; et al. (2016-04-13)
      Shamanic belief systems represent the first form of religious practice visible within the global archaeological record. Here we report on the earliest known evidence of shamanic costume: modified red deer crania headdresses from the Early Holocene site of Star Carr (c. 11 kya). More than 90% of the examples from prehistoric Europe come from this one site, establishing it as a place of outstanding shamanistic/cosmological significance. Our work, involving a programme of experimental replication, analysis of macroscopic traces, organic residue analysis and 3D image acquisition, metrology and visualisation, represents the first attempt to understand the manufacturing processes used to create these artefacts. The results produced were unexpected—rather than being carefully crafted objects, elements of their production can only be described as expedient.