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Otter Spraint Analysis Workshop

Exeter University, 30th and 31st March 2019



Professor Naomi Sykes and the Centre for Human-Animal-Environment Bioarchaeology at the University of Exeter hosted our joint Fish Bone Workshop to support the Cornwall Coastal Otter Project. 30 students (about half of whom were otter volunteers and half were archaeologists) together with half a dozen internationally renowned experts in fish bones and remains spent a stimulating and enjoyable weekend learning about fish remains.


There is a lot of common ground between archaeologists looking at fish remains – which might be from a midden, an ancient tomb or an old spraint heap – and our CCOP volunteers trying to identify prey species from a fresh sample of otter spraint. The only real difference is the age of the sample.

We learned a lot about the fish skeleton, how to identify key bones, which bits survive best and how they can be changed by digestion. Perhaps most importantly we learned the importance of sample recording and preservation to allow identifications to be confirmed and also that some of the less common species can baffle even the most experienced scientist. Having taken this all on board it should make the CCOP much more scientifically rigorous and keep us all a lot busier! It inspired us to think about the possibility of building a reference collection of the skeletal remains of common otter prey species, so watch this space!

A big thank you to everyone who gave up their weekends to attend but especially to the course tutors: Naomi Sykes, Rebecca Nicholson, Shelagh Hamilton-Dyer, Andrew Jones, Rebecca Reynolds, and Hannah Russ.

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