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How it's done: Stages 1-3

Stage 1:  Where do the dogs bones come from?


The archaeologists - Alan, Paul, Muireann, Steven, Dave, Shane - all are site directors on archaeological digs in Ireland. They lead a team of archaeological assistants who all excavate the site layer by layer. It's slow work and attention to details is a must for this job. You also get sore knees so need kneeling pads to work on the stony, muddy ground.


The archaeologists use a small trowel to to scrape away thin layers of soil from trenches, holes in the ground to reveal the bones and other artefacts. They also sieve all the soil or dirt removed from every trench or hole for small sized bones and artefacts.

Archaeologists also carefully map all findings and different soil layers, they complete many drawings and record many distance and other measurements using tapes and other specialised equipment. All the maps are transferred to a computer, digitised and all measurements and locations of findings included.

They also clean, count and sort different types of artefacts with each other, carefully numbering and bagging each artefact. The animal bones are separated from the human bones, bagged and labelled per find location.


An artefact is any 'object' created or modified by a human culture.

All of the collected artefacts (metal, coins, pottery/ceramics, glass, leather, etc), the environmental artefacts (plant remains, animal bones, charcoal, wood, etc) and the human bones are sent to a variety of specialists who record, describe, interpret and write reports on them. 

a coloured photo of a found partial dog skeleton on an arcaeological site
a coloured photo of a found partial dog skeleton on an arcaeological site. A archaeologist is cleaning the dirt from the bones in situ with a small brush.
Archaeologists are measuring and drawing a map of the partial dog skeleton found on the archaeological site
a cardboard box filled with labelled bags of archaeological animal bones

Stage 2:  Identification & Sorting


The zooarchaeologists (Ruth, Pam, Clare, Terry, Emily) identify the dog bones and teeth from amongst the rest of the other animals' bones in the various archaeological assemblages.

A mixture of different animals and their bones were recovered during an excavation by the archaeologists on a site. These are then bagged together and labelled with where they were found on the site, and other associated information. An assemblage contains many, many, many, many, many, MANY bags!

The pack zooarchaeologists creates a catalogue of each bone found in each bag (with its location where it was found on the site), recording details such as the colour of the bone, what type of bone in the skeleton, the animal species, if it was burnt or shows signs of disease and so on.

Stage 3: Measuring bones & size/shape analysis

Once identified, the pack zooarchaeologists then measure all of the dog skulls, teeth and long bones from the legs. We use a standard set of measurements using landmark areas on each bone to record its dimensions.


The set of measurements was developed by Angela von den Driesch in 1976 and is the standard tool used by zooarchaeologists working on animal and bird assemblages around the world.

Once finished, comparing all our records enables us to see the changes in size and shape of the bones in different sizes of dogs and trends of size over time and between different sites. This statisical modelling analysis will be done by Ruth and Pat.

We can estimate age-at-death by examining the stage of tooth eruption in the recovered dogs' jaws, and also the bone fusion patterns in the long bones of the legs.

A metal callipers on a table with some dog leg bones and a skull laid out, ready for measuring
Dog bones being measured with a metal callipers and the bone measuring manual by Angela von Den Driesch (1976)
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