A zooarchaeological signature for meat storage: re-thinking the drying utility index

Am Antiq. 2001 Apr;66(2):315-31.


Although the practice of food storage is important to many questions addressed by archaeologists, demonstrating its presence in archaeological contexts can be difficult or impossible. One potentially useful approach to meat storage is the concept of the Drying Utility Index, introduced by Lewis Binford (1978) to predict which carcass portions, with attached bone, will be selected for storage by drying. However, this index has not been widely used by zooarchaeologists, at least in part because the calculations involved in its derivation are extremely complex. This paper presents a new, simplified index, the Meat Drying Index, which is easier to calculate and more transparent than the Drying Utility Index, yet which retains all of its key attributes. This new index is applied to caribou bone samples from two regions: Binford's (1978) Nunamiut data from northern Alaska, and the contents of three caches from the Barren Grounds of Canada, near Baker Lake, Nunavut. In both cases, the Meat Drying Index correlates with the observed element frequencies as well as, or better than, the original Drying Utility Index. As a result, the new index may prove applicable to element distributions from a wide range of archaeological contexts in which storage of meat by drying is suspected.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Alaska
  • Animals
  • Archaeology / methods
  • Food Handling / history*
  • Food Handling / methods
  • History, 15th Century
  • History, 16th Century
  • History, 17th Century
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, Ancient
  • History, Medieval
  • Humans
  • Inuit / history*
  • Meat Products / history*
  • Meat* / economics
  • Meat* / history
  • Nunavut
  • Reindeer