Friday, September 8, 2017

OSCAR Student Leila Martinez-Bentley Analyses Animal and Human Remains for Project Plaza of the Columns Complex

This summer I spent two and a half months in Teotihuacan, Mexico analysing animal and human remains for the Project Plaza of the Columns Complex. I became interested in this project primarily because my mentor, Dr. Nawa Sugiyama, gave me the incredible opportunity to gain firsthand experience analysing archaeological material. My research interests center around animal bones, what they can tell us about human-animal interactions, and implications those relationships have for economic, social, and ritual activity.

On a weekly basis, I spend my time going to the lab Monday through Friday and for half the day on Saturday. In the lab, I help process specimens for the comparative collection and I also help organize the collection itself. The bulk of my responsibility here is to add to the existing database of analyzed bones that were excavated in the field. I determine from what animal the bone originates (down to the species level when possible), what element the bone is (femur, humerus, cranial bone, etc.), what portion of the element is remaining, and if there are any surface modifications present on the bone. This data allows us to understand the distribution of animals in the areas being excavated and gives us a better idea of how animals are being used, as well as the relationships humans at Teotihuacan have with the animals they live near, with, and eat. The context I analyzed was particularly interesting because there were a lot of human remains mixed in with animal remains, and many human and animal bones displayed cut marks and other forms of modification, which speaks to the ways in which the dead (both human and animal) were viewed by the Teotihuacanos.

The data I have collected here allows Dr. Sugiyama and myself to perform isotopic analysis on samples that were collected this season once we returned to the U.S. This project is integral to my long-term goals because I plan to continue to delve deeper into questions about human-animal relationship and what isotopes can tell us at the masters level. Research relating to my data collection this summer will only continue and expand in scope over time. Through this experience, I learned about Teotihuacan and about human and animal bones; I encountered species of animals I had never seen before and I analyzed far more bones than I thought possible. I also discovered that Mexico is a beautiful country with amazing people and a rich history that I can only hope to learn more about over time.