During archaeological excavations we ‘dig up’ all kinds of things like pottery, glass, shell, metal and lots of bones, mostly the remains of many meals and you soon become familiar with the more common finds of sheep/goat, pigs and cattle. With good eyesight or by sieving samples smaller bones that turn up are birds, fish, frogs and mammal bones. The fish bones are often very interesting as they can show if the people using the site eat river fish or sea fish, and if the sea fish came from deep or shallow waters.
Sometimes when digging you come across what is not ‘run of the mill’ you know its something different but have to wait for the specialist to identify it in the post excavation reports. Over the years we have had dogs from Roman sites, a Greater Horseshoe bat bone from a 17th century layer in the third tower at Corfe Castle.
But best of all, our object of the month, Beaver molars! These come from a second century Roman site on the Kingston lacy estate, near the River Stour. It seems very likely that the Beavers would have been caught nearby for meat and their pelt. This information changes our whole view of what the landscape around the estate would have been like in Roman times.
Looking at archaeological evidence Beavers seem to have become extinct in Britain in the Saxon period, but are now being reintroduced into Britain, for more information on their history here are some good references (our beaver teeth feature in this book) Derek Yalden The History Of British Mammals 1999 (Poyser) and Prof. Bryony Coles 2006 “Beavers in Britain’s Past” WARP Occasional Paper 19. Oxford: Oxbow Books.