Powerful birds. The Eurasian jay (Garrulus glandarius) and the osprey (Pandion haliaetus) in hunter-gatherer burials at Zvejnieki, northern Latvia and Yuzhniy Oleniy Ostrov, northwestern Russia


en Anthropozoologica 48 (2) - Pages 189-205

Published on 27 December 2013

This article is a part of the thematic issue Animals in Funerary space

Recent archaeological studies reveal the importance of birds in prehistoric North-European hunter-fisher-gatherer burial practices. In this article I describe two examples of bird species at prehistoric hunter-gatherer burials: the Eurasian jay (Garrulus glandarius) at the Middle Neolithic Zvejnieki site in northern Latvia, and the osprey (Pandion haliaetus) at the Late Mesolithic Yuzhniy Oleniy Ostrov site in western Russia. I suggest that the bone finds and their archaeological contexts indicate a prehistoric ideology that can be interpreted as representing totemism and shamanism. The wing bones had a specific function and meaning, probably connected to protection, transformation or transport. The deposition of osprey legs may indicate that the power of this bird was particularly appreciated and re-mobilized in the burial.


Prehistory, bird bones, wing symbolism, burial practices, hunter-gatherers, Oleniy Ostrov, Zvejnieki.

Download full article in PDF format Order a reprint