2015 Osteology Report For Stensö Castle

As with the bones from the 2014 fieldwork at Stensö Castle, Rudolf Gustavsson of SAU in Uppsala has again analysed the bones we found this year (report in Swedish here). And as expected, there are no human bones: this too is mostly food waste. The body parts represented indicate that trench D just inside the perimeter wall contained meal remains while trench F inside the south tower contained more butchery refuse.

The material is dominated by youngish pigs, a tell-tale marker of aristocratic housekeeping, followed by cattle and finally sheep/goat to a lesser proportion than in the 2014 trenches. Chicken, goose, duck and hare were also eaten. Most of the fish species identified would have been available just downhill in the Bråviken inlet.

Turning to other uses for animals than as food, bones of squirrel, cat and dog suggest the production of furs, as do the aforementioned hares. Some cat and squirrel bones have cut marks characteristic of flaying, while some dog bones show signs of butchery.

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My father in law ate dog once. He said it tasted disgusting. He was also very disapproving of the way that dogs are commonly killed for human consumption in modern Korea and China - by being beaten to death.

It seems in past centuries, people were able to stomach eating animals that many people today in modern developed countries would find disgusting - seal, swan, etc. And of course all manner of insects. As a broad trend it seems that modernisation carries with it (i) more finicky tastes in food, and (ii) greater sensibility toward the suffering of animals. I can't imagine any modern person wanting to wear cat fur. Yet only two generations back, both of my grandmothers wore fox fur stoles, and very fashionable they thought themselves, too. I don't see anyone wearing animal furs any more, and even leather jackets are becoming less noticeable. It's like a continuation of Steve Pinker's "Better Angels" is being played out as we watch. Certainly within my lifetime, beating children and cruelty to animals have both diminished noticeably.

When I was a kid, I was regularly forced to eat mullet, which is a disgusting tasting fish. Mullet eat sh*t and they taste like what they eat. The attraction was that they were cheap, and easy to catch because they used to hang around the sewerage outlets into the sea. I don't see mullet in fish markets in Australia any more, or much less. People can afford better tasting fish, and I presume mullet are less plentiful now that the sewage is all treated before discharge.

By John Massey (not verified) on 18 Feb 2016 #permalink

Not just different animals, John, but different parts of the animal. I'm told that chicken feet are a Cantonese delicacy, but Westerners usually don't eat that part of the chicken.

I'm generally a more adventurous eater than most Westerners--I have had Cantonese chicken feet (not my preference, but not something I'd actively avoid either) and Japanese eel (which I do actively seek out in places like San Francisco--I don't eat Japanese food around here because the only Japanese restaurant in the region calls itself Sake, and I have a rule about avoiding restaurants named after alcoholic beverages). But I do have my limits. In Beijing's Wangfujing Snack Street I photographed the scorpion-on-a-stick that one vendor was selling, but I did not wish to sample his wares.

My mother has a friend who will not eat salmon because during the Depression salmon was what poor people ate. I have never known a time when salmon or other seafood was cheap compared to other meats.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 18 Feb 2016 #permalink

Eric @2: I know a friend-of-a-friend who once *had* to eat lobster all summer because he was too poor to afford anything else (he was a lobster fisherman).
For much of the early history of the USA (especially on the East Coast) oysters were super cheap street food.

I've always heard that chicken feet make the best chicken soup, but none of the Jewish grandmothers I knew ever made it, and I'm afraid to fight the tiny Chinese grandmothers for them at the supermarket to try for myself.

Also, chicken feet are just about impossible to eat with chopsticks.

By JustaTech (not verified) on 18 Feb 2016 #permalink

JT@3:1. Pick up the chicken's foot with your chopsticks. 2. Tear off a toe with your teeth, while continuing to grip the foot with the sticks. Place the foot back on your plate. 3. Suck off the skin and gristle on the toe inside your mouth. 4. Spit out the toe bones onto the table cloth. 5. Repeat.

The same works for geese feet, but there you have the webs, so you have more material to suck off.

Why anyone would ever want to do this is a different question.

By John Massey (not verified) on 18 Feb 2016 #permalink

But in the Greenland colony, when the mini Ice Age hit, they got so desperate for food that they ate the cows' feet. Apparently, according to the archaeological record.

By John Massey (not verified) on 18 Feb 2016 #permalink

they got so desperate for food that they ate the cows’ feet

I suspect that's part of it. People who live close to the edge learn not to waste food. China in particular has teetered close to Malthusian limits several times during its history (this has been a major factor in determining whether a given dynasty has lost the Mandate of Heaven). So peasants in Guangdong learned to eat chicken feet, and Norse Greenlanders learned to eat cows' feet. A key difference was that there were enough people in Guangdong to keep going even as many of them starved. There were never enough Norse in Greenland to survive such an event. Furthermore, the Norse in Greenland didn't get into eating the locally abundant seafood--that might have saved them even as the shifting climate made cattle ranching non-viable.

Icelanders had a near thing too. But they learned to eat seafood, and they phased out cattle in favor of sheep, which fare much better in the climate of the far North Atlantic.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 19 Feb 2016 #permalink

According to my Umeå boss who has done fieldwork in Greenland, the long-accepted view that the Norse there didn't exploit marine resources is an artefact of the screening mesh width at the early excavations. In recent years it has been found that if you wet-screen Norse Greenlander middens through 2 mm mesh you get loads of fish bones.

As a child I once helped eat a Black Swan- back when chicken was eaten only once a year at Christmas. (The Swan was an injured bird executed out of mercy.) I recollect that the meat was dark and stringy, but tasty. We once knocked down a hare with the car, and subsequently casseroled it - excellent after marinading, but some acquaintances were disgusted. Many older people in Australia and new Zealand will not eat rabbit because it was the 'underground mutton' of the Depression era.

By Anthea Fleming (not verified) on 19 Feb 2016 #permalink

I ate quite a few rabbits, but I killed them the conventional way, by shooting them :)

I ate a few kangaroos too - if you get a young one they are tender and don't smell, and it tastes like very lean beef. But after you shoot a kangaroo you need to check it all over carefully for ticks before you pick it up - the last thing you want attached to you is a kangaroo tick. For reasons that escape me, they favour the genital region for attaching themselves to humans.

#7 - Yes, I knew about the fish bones. But I think they didn't take up hunting seals.

By John Massey (not verified) on 20 Feb 2016 #permalink

Yeah, arid conditions are favourable to preservation. I have vague recollections of Andean remains found at high altitude that were in effect mummified by the cold, dry conditions.

That village is cool - it could have been the birth place of the Neolithic, or one like it. "We have the crops and the architecture, but not the technology...yet."

By John Massey (not verified) on 21 Feb 2016 #permalink

As a rule of thumb, any environment hostile to microbe growth offers good preservation. Then there's issues of rainwater leaching and pH. For instance, the Pitted Ware seal hunters of the Middle Neolithic left amazing inhumation cemeteries that strangely seem to correlate with areas of calcareous bedrock. On the other hand, Danish bog bodies are completely tanned but have no preserved bone because of humic acid.