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Researchers find clues to the Baltic Crusades in animal bones, horses

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Author Topic: Researchers find clues to the Baltic Crusades in animal bones, horses  (Read 185 times)
Knight of Jerusalem
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« on: December 16, 2012, 09:49:07 pm »

Windows into culture A major part of the project, which is funded by a four-year grant from the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme, seeks to illuminate how the crusaders exploited the region's wildlife, an effort led by Seetah, who specializes in zooarchaeology. The Teutonic Order owed the success of its conquest largely to horses, whose strength and stature allowed them to bear armor and weaponry, unlike the pagans' much smaller horses, Seetah explained. Historians can draw comparisons to other wars, like the Southern Crusades in the Middle East, where the Arabian horse, stronger and swifter than the European breed, ultimately led the Islamic crusaders to victory. "Underlying war was the use of animals for war," Seetah said from Mauritius, an island nation off the southeastern African coast, where he's currently doing fieldwork on slavery and indenture. The researchers also want to compare culinary preparation across cultures. To do so, they're relying on a variety of methods, including analysis of food processing tools and butchery techniques, as indicated by cut marks on animal bones. "We see a difference between food cultures in how animals are processed," Seetah said. "Pagan groups did it differently from the Germanic Teutonic Order." For example, the team's preliminary research unearthed evidence that the Baltic pagans ate dogs, which they abruptly stopped doing after the Teutonic invasion, reflecting the newcomers' distaste for dogs as food. Studying the archaeological record of how cultures prepared food can inform us of their interactions and evolution over time. Archaeologists could apply this method of understanding how cultures bring their unique food traditions not only to other instances of colonialism but to any migration, from the slave trade in Mauritius to the immigration that opened the array of ethnic eateries along University Avenue just off the Stanford campus. The project also looks at the Teutonic crusaders' other uses of animals – for hunting, as well as trading fur and livestock, for example. In a novel collaboration with the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, Seetah and colleagues are using a technique called X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy to analyze the chemical and molecular composition of animal bones in order to identify not only their species and use but also their movements along trading and herding routes. Although archaeologists have used the technique to analyze paintings, this marks the first time they've used it to study bones in this context. They also rely on a method called geometric morphometrics, which looks at the shape of animal body parts, mainly teeth, to track their travel patterns. Increased reliance on animals inevitably led to the extinction of some species, including the aurochs, an ancestor to modern-day cattle. The relatively rapid disappearance of species marks a dramatic shift in how the indigenous Baltic culture perceived the natural world. A belief in the interconnectedness of the land's flora and fauna gave way to a more utilitarian, Christian view of nature. Changes in dwelling structures also provide a framework for understanding the Baltic Crusades. The research team compared Teutonic castles – massive forts whose construction required clearing of vast expanses of forest – to the less intrusive pagan settlements. Medieval castles that today appear as crumbling, moss-grown relics bore in their time striking similarities to present-day urban centers, forming the backbone of the new Christian states. Characterizing the ecological impacts of these castles can reveal how urbanization affects surrounding habitats.

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