Zooarchaeology Laboratory - Reference Collection

Reference Collection

The Department of Archaeology at the University of Sheffield has a long tradition of teaching and research in zooarchaeology. It also houses an important reference collection consisting of almost two thousand specimens. The zooarchaeology reference collection is an integral part of the Department of Archaeology. The Department has trained many currently active and distinguished zooarchaeologists.

Both the research and teaching collections are focused on completeness and ease of use rather than display. The research collection includes complete and partial skeletons of modern animals, which are used as an aid to the identification of archaeological material, as well as for research purposes.

The collection includes a wide variety of specimens of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fishes that live or had once lived in Europe, as well as a more limited range of specimens from other parts of the world. About 30% of our more than 1800 specimens are sexed and aged, which helps with a more detailed identification of archaeological material and also provides the opportunity to use the collection as a research tool to address questions of morphological variability. In addition, the availability of multiple specimens of individual taxa also provides the opportunity to use the collection for the establishment of identification criteria based on osteological material. Most skeletons kept in the collection derive from modern animals, but we also have some archaeological specimens, which can be very useful for comparative purposes, as many modern animals have been subject to such modifications in recent times that they have a limited resemblance with their ancient counterparts.

We have a research room specifically dedicated to housing a more specialized part of the collection. In particular collections of mammal isolated teeth and mammal and bird postcranial bones organised by body part have been prepared and kept in special cabinets. The bird index collection is organized by anatomical element, with each element divided into four size groups, each of them kept in a different cabinet. The bird collection, so arranged, is not only of great use for the identification of archaeological specimens but it also provides students with a prompt overview of the morphological variability in different bird orders and families. We also have a small Aquatic Resources Research Lab, where skeletons of fishes and other acquatic creatures are processed and stored.

A database of the collection is available to download from the link on the right. For each specimen, information about species, breed, provenance, age, sex and other details are available.

Bird reference collection

Accessing the reference collection

The reference collection of the Zooarchaeology Laboratory of the University of Sheffield is available for consultation and study to researchers through appointment, arranged with the staff of the Laboratory. The collection has so far been used by many researchers, based in Sheffield or other institutions, both from the U.K. and abroad. It is also being regularly used by the current members of staff of the Zooarchaeology Laboratory to carry out research and consultancy work. To arrange access to the collection please contact Umberto Albarella.

We make every possible effort to improve our collection and keep it in good order. New specimens are added whenever is possible and we are also keen in setting up collaborations and possible exchanges with other laboratories that house animal bone collections. Improvement in the layout of the collection and its accessibility were implemented as part of an AHRC funded project that was completed in February 2006. Many other improvements have been carried out since.