I began the project by reading around the subject and considering what it is about the bones of animals that interests me.
In my reading, I came across a number of interesting articles and books about archaeology and art, materiality and how we perceive objects. All very interesting, but one thing struck me – in all my reading, animal bones were always considered in the same vein as other archaeological artefacts; bones appeared in lists of finds amongst things like pottery, tools or items of jewellery, without any acknowledgement of their difference.
For me, bones are different. They are not artefacts in that they have not been crafted by humans (although some are used to make other artefacts such as tools or adornments, but are modified for this). Animal bones have had a former life, possibly untouched by humans for all or some part of it. The animal itself had agency. It had its own biography. It had relations and an origin.
Interestingly, the field of archaeology is, in the USA, considered a branch of anthropology. Archaeology is the study of human lives through the discovery and interpretation of remains. Thus animal bones have come to be seen through the lense of the study of human culture, and have been thought of and written about as just another kind of object in the human story. But there is animal story there. What happens if we look at the story from the point of view of the animal?
I’ve been rummaging through the boxes in the collection at the University, sifting my way through like a bone picker looking for something useful, intrigued by the curious interior shapes of all sorts of creatures.
I have decided to keep away from skulls for now. Skulls are already quite a fetishised object and perhaps too evocative; they appear too frequently in scenes of superstitious devilry or as gothic emblems or heavy metal t-shirts. For now I prefer the more abstract shaped bones, the ones that I’m not sure which part of a body they might be from, the ones that make me marvel at how they evolved and how alien some of the species of this planet are to me.
I will start by just getting to know them.