Scavenging and Scheduling

Content Warning: This post contains images of not-quite fully decomposed animal remains.

It’s really funny to me how an image like this evokes different emotions in different people. To me, this is a calm, serene, and beautiful photo. To my friend who grew up in a NYC suburb of New Jersey, it’s the terrifying opening shot of a horror movie.

Sometimes you find yourself with an hour to kill in your hometown on a Friday in February.

On these occasions, one might recall that your friend told you about a deer carcass in the woods near her parents house that the dogs had found back in November. And you may, upon visiting the site of the reported carcass, find a lovely set of ribs poking out of the melting New England snow.

Deer ribs poking out of the melting snow

Thoreau went into the woods to live deliberately; I went into the woods to scavenge a partial deer carcass for my personal reference collection.

My plan was slapdash, but everything worked out in the end. When I first drove to the dead end road I had to park about a ¼ mile away from where I thought the deer was, in front of a neighbor’s house. Not an unusual occurrence, as that road is somewhere people often take their dogs to walk by the old landfill and sand pits about half a mile further down. But I was a little worried someone might call the police on me once I was doing some admittedly sketchy-looking things in the woods. The timeline of events progressed thusly:

  • Arrived at road, parked, and walked down the gravel path scanning the melting snow for deer bones
  • Spotted ribs, figured out how to navigate the slipper bowl-shaped marshy depression they were in without sliding down or hitting my head on a boulder.
  • Saw innominates (pelvis, ischium, and ilium bones) sticking out of the snow. Realized I didn’t have any gloves with me, but took a deep break and hooked a finger through the obturator foramen of the ischium (foramen = hole) and pulled. Did not expect about 4 feet of still connected vertebral column and ribs to come with the pelvis.
Obviously taken after I realized that using a stick was smarter, but you get the idea.
  • Stood like some kind of deranged wood goblin, hoisting the kind-of-smelly carcass aloft with a mad grin on my face. Then felt something viscous drip onto my hand and decided to put it down on the snow and find a better carrying option.
  • Vigorously scrubbed hands with clean snow.
  • Found a robust, small stick to slide through the obturator foramina of the innominates, and carried my prize out to the side of the road where I could come back for it.
  • Walked back to my car, dug hand sanitizer out of my purse
  • Drove to local home furnishings store, purchased discounted underbed storage bin that looked like it might fit the whole vertebral column
  • Stopped at local convenience store and picked up duct tape and cheap garden gloves. (Side note: this store is still called “Lil Peach” by my hometown’s residents despite it having gone through at least three name changes since it was last called that around 2007)
  • Drove back, parked, carried container down to where I left the carcass, realized I forgot the gloves in my car, walked back to the car, grabbed gloves, walked back to carcass
  • Spent a good 10 minutes wrestling the deer into the container, which was slightly too small to fit the whole thing. Decided that since I’m going to eventually disarticulate it I could separate two of the vertebra from each other.
  • Realized I didn’t have a knife with me. Realized I never put my work knife into my new car. Cursed very loudly in the woods while holding a vertebral column.
  • Eventually used brute force to partially separate the lumbar vertebrae from the rest of the bones, was able to bend everything into the box, seal it up with the lid and a little extra duct tape, and carry it back out of the woods.
  • Shockingly no one had called the cops while all of this was going on.
  • Loaded box into car, drove to therapist appointment, laughed uncontrollably when she asked what I had been up to that morning.
After the excitement of fitting the deer in the box, but before duct taping for better leak prevention.

Dramatic, I know. But the deer is safely in my current living location, doing its decomp thing in a hidden corner of the the vacant lot next to my house while I figure out how to get it somewhere with some dermestids so I can get it properly cleaned.

It’s got a LOT of carnivore gnawing, but it’s surprisingly intact for having been out there for over 4 months. From what I can tell right now, it’s a juvenile female white tailed deer, and I’m exciting to have some good examples of dog, racoon and fox carcass interactions for my reference collection.

After all that excitement, my weekend has been pretty tame. I’m here again on Sunday writing out my schedule, and it’s pretty much the same as last week, except next weekend I’ll be having another dedicated thesis weekend. I have passed the 10,000 word mark and I’ve nearly finished a draft of three chapters, and substantial work done two others. So my hope is that, in addition to work I get done this week, I’ll be able to make a very large dent in the remaining chapters. With that in mind, instead of my week schedule, I thought I’d mix it up a bit and talk about my thesis schedule for the next few weeks. Obviously this is all subject to change, and also very dependent on the reaction times of my committee members.

Feb 24 – March 3

  • Finish inputting “Mystery Meat” data
    • “Mystery Meat” is the unidentified fragments that I put aside for my committee chair to go over with me in case he’d be able to help me identify them further. Of the 200 or so fragments, we were only able to identify about 10 of them beyond “Medium mammal UNID” or “Medium bird UNID”.
  • Begin fish identifications
    • I’ve got about 600-700 fish elements to go through. MANY of them will be fall under “Actinopterygiii – medium/large- spines” or something similarly vague. But there is a decent amount of diagnostic craniomaxillary and vertebral elements that I should be able to get to at least Family — my guess is that most of these will be Gadidae (cod, haddock, pollock, etc).
  • Finish ‘Archival Methods’ section in Chapter 4: Materials and Methods
  • Write bare bones (hehe) outline of Chapter 5: Results
  • Finish ‘Consumer Choice’ section in Chapter 3: Social and Theoretical Context
  • Begin writing Chapter 6: Comparative Sites

March 4 – March 10

  • Finish fish identifications
  • Go through entire dataset with committee chair to check for issues and verify that my interpretation is sound
  • Finish Chapter 6: Comparative Sites
  • Continue Chapter 7: Discussion & Conclusions
  • Continue Chapter 4: Results

March 11 – March 17

  • Gonna be in Florida most of this week, but I’m going to try and wrap up any loose ends and *GULP* maybe send in a draft by the end of the week???
  • Write Chapter 1: Introduction
  • Finish Chapter 4: Results
  • Finish Chapter 7: Discussion and Conclusions

March 18 – 24

  • Wait for commentary???
  • Make revisions???

I’m not gonna speculate beyond this point because I will just jinx myself and be cursed with Unresponsive Committee Syndrome.

For the rest of today I am ignoring any and all thesis writing, data collection, or research in favor of actually starting the paper I’m presented at this year’s Society for American Archaeology conference in Albuquerque from April 10-14. I’ll be writing a whole post on that paper soon, and I’m also going to share the paper ahead of the conference (the symposium it is a part of is an Electronic Symposium which will have all papers shared online ahead of time).

Hope everyone is having a good Sunday.



1 Comment

  1. Hah, I once scavenged some sheep/goat jawbones from a village in Tunisia where I was digging. These were modern though, just hanging around on a garbage heap. And totally dry. I wanted them to show when I do archaeology demos. When we were leaving I stuck them in my little daughter’s plastic purse for safekeeping. Then I forgot all about them for a month, until we were standing in line for customs in Houston. Oops. Maybe a little hard to explain? But fortunately they didn’t search our bags. I still have them, and have used them many times in classrooms.


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