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What Did the Bishop Have for Dinner?

By Liam Farrell


The answer to that question can be found among these bones, cleaned and drying on newspaper in the lab of George Hambrecht, assistant professor of anthropology. The 17th-century leftovers were taken from an archeological dig at Skálholt, an Episcopal cathedral and bishop’s residence in southern Iceland.

Hambrecht describes himself as standing where “archaeology meets climate science”—he studies animal remains to reconstruct historical ecological conditions and learn from their interactions with humans.

This work involves looking at lots of bones. Scroll through the slideshow to see more specimens from Hambrecht’s lab. 

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What’s interesting about these 300 to 400-year-old cattle skulls from Iceland is not so much what’s there, but what isn’t—Hambrecht says these cattle didn’t have horns and had their buds cauterized even though that would have made them worthless for trade. He speculates they could be evidence of early scientific experimentation with breeding or just conspicuous consumption, since cattle needed horns to be considered legal tender.

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