Experimental Elk Butchering

To date, the Experimental Archaeology Working Group (EAWG) has participated in the experimental butchering of two elk and two deer with stone tools. All animals were donated as whole carcasses to the UWM Zooarchaeology lab after they had died of natural causes. (The lab has a no-kill policy. It prepares animal skeletons for teaching and research purposes.) EAWG provides opportunities for students, both graduate and undergraduate, and faculty to work together to design and carry out applied research. Each of these butchering experiments was carried out over a one- to two-day period, with various students volunteering their time for part of the effort.

Body of an elk being disected with primative stone tools

The goals of these experiments included:

  1. replication of stone tool butcher marks on elk and deer bone
  2. comparison of stone tool and metal tool marks
  3. replication of hide, meat, and bone microwear and polish on stone tools
  4. measurement of meat-to-bone values for various parts of the animal
Graduate student making the stone tools Stone tools made by the students
Graduate student Dan Dybowski knapped our experimental stone tools. Various raw materials, shapes, and sizes of both tool and of cutting edges were made and used. Close ups of some of the tools made by the students used in the experiment in butchering the elk.

The first two goals helped us connect the size, shape, and type of tool with the size, shape, and anatomical placement of cutmarks left behind on the bone. The third goal helps us connect the microscopic traces left behind on the stone tools after they have been used in butchering. The fourth goal helps us understand how much meat and fat is provided by different parts of the animal, and how that might affect transport decisions. All four goals help us better understand the purely archaeological evidence left behind by past hunting peoples, whether it be cutmarks on bone, microwear on stone tools, or the parts of the animal carcass present at or absent from an ancient campsite.