Archaeology and the electron microscope. Eggshell and neural network analysis of images in the Neolithic


en Anthropozoologica 25-26 - Pages 85-94

Published on 01 June 1998

This article is a part of the thematic issue Proceedings of the 7th ICAZ International Meeting, Constance, September 1994

This paper explores the relationship between the bird bone remains and the eggshell recovered from midden material in the Neolithic village of Skara Brae, Mainland, Orkney, and attempts to show the implications for the dietary economics of its inhabitants. The information gained from Skara Brae makes it possible to make comparisons with other contemporary sites and to outline some of the changes in bird exploitation apparent in bone collections from later prehistoric and recent sites down to the 17th century. Crucial to this study has been the development of a neural network computer image analysis programme and database for the identification of the fossil eggshell from Scanning Electron Micrographs, carried out with the collaboration of the Institute of Biological Sciences, The University of Wales, Aberystwyth. Up to the present this has shown positive recognition of eggs from 17 different species of birds. Results which confirm the bone data, showing that these early farmers exploited a greater variety of avifauna than their successors in the Highlands and Islands in historic times.


Skara Brae, Scanning Electron Microscope, neural network computer image analysis, avifauna, ultrastructure.

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