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Man's Best Friend?

Using Animal Bones to Solve an Archaeological Mystery



Author:

Elizabeth Scharf
Department of Anthropology
University of North Dakota
elizabeth.scharf@und.nodak.edu

Abstract:

In this case, students learn how archaeology operates as an historical science by collecting and analyzing material evidence to make claims about the past. Assuming the role of zooarchaeologists, they evaluate a hypothetical case in which “Dr. Jasper Eraillure” shocks the world by claiming a canid skull he has found at a Neanderthal site is actually that of a domestic dog. Students analyze modern skulls from wild and domestic canids, and develop a set of criteria for determining whether the “unknown” canid skull belonged to a domestic dog. They further explore the reasons behind the divergence between wild and domestic dog populations and evaluate the potential impact of Dr. Eraillure’s assertions on our understanding of the past. The case was designed for an introductory course in archaeology, but could be adpated for use in an introductory biology course.

Objectives:
  • Make logical arguments linking present-day observations on objects to past behaviors.
  • Understand the definition of domestication and the difference between captive and domestic animals.
  • Learn skull anatomy and technical terminology by applying these to the case.
  • Be able to differentiate between observations and interpretations.
  • Practice making primary observations on archaeologically observable phenomena.
  • Be able to make distinctions between phenotype and genotype.
Keywords: Canids; domestic dogs; domestication; canine evolution; phenotype; genotype; cranial anatomy; skull; zooarchaeology, material evidence
Topical Area: N/A
Educational Level: High school, Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division
Formats: PDF
Type/Method: Interrupted
Language: English
Subject Headings: Evolutionary Biology   Paleontology   Anthropology   Zoology  
Date Posted: 07/22/08
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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