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Subject:

British archaeological urchins

From:

Greg Campbell <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Greg Campbell <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 1 Nov 2005 21:37:54 +0000

Content-Type:

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Dear Dr Highbee:  having spent some time looking at archaeological urchins 
since I provoked the most recent discussion about them on ZOOARCH, it does 
not surprise me that there have been so few contributions of English E. 
esculentus.  I have yet to find any reference to, or memory of, any 
urchins from any English excavation of any period.  I have not read a 
large number of marine shell reports, but it seems clear that they are not 
actively researched in England.  I would be very pleased to be proved 
wrong by others in this forum.

The only reference that I have to E esculentus is that by Ceron-Cerasco in 
the previous ZOOARCH exchange.  In fact, recent British urchin finds seem 
restricted to the Scottish Isles, where they are recorded from several 
periods but generally in low densities.  Field archaeologists (bless ‘em) 
might might be tempted to see contrasting cultures (an ‘echinophagous’ 
and ‘echinophobic’ tribe), and insist that our associates in ancient 
biomolecules search for the relevant gene (double-recessive ‘e-e’ forms 
being echinophagous).  

I fear that there is a cultural explanation, but it is one of contrasting 
archaeological cultures rather than indigenous cultures.  The Isles have a 
long tradition of early prehistoric excavation which includes as a matter 
of course (and necessity) subsistence evidence recovery, with this 
tradition being extended into excavations of later periods.  Elsewhere in 
the British Isles, the archaeological tradition is I fear more concerned 
with what past peoples built or made or dug (it seems no field report can 
be published without at least one ditch section and a page of drawings of 
what appear to be identical potsherds), with serious consideration of how 
they managed the fundamental human act of feeding themselves again 
confined to early prehistory.  We zooarchers must begin the task of gently 
weaning mainland field archaeologists of most periods away from their 
Howard Carter obsession with ‘beautiful (and frankly not very beautiful) 
things’.

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