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Beastly Questions: Animal Answers how well-established methodologies can also


to Archaeological Issues provide alternative interpretations from a
NAOMI SYKES social perspective. Sykes introduces zooar-
chaeology as a data-driven practice through
Bloomsbury Academic, London,
a range of solid methodologies that produce
UK, 2014. 221 pp., 34 b&w illus.
$29.99 cloth. identifications and quantifications that are
often interpreted by others writing reports.
Naomi Sykes has made a career of valu- Sykes challenges the reader to think beyond
able contributions to the study of zooarchae- the modern western structures of Linnaean
ology, though due to her focus on Iron Age taxonomic classification and to consider how
through medieval English contexts much of folk taxonomy could bring new meaning to
her work may be unknown to archaeologists what animals meant to the contemporary
who focus solely within the scope of histori- people, such as medieval perceptions of bea-
cal archaeology. While this is unfortunate, vers as fish. Her emphasis on multiple lines
Sykess recent book Beastly Questions: Animal of evidence is relatable to historical archae-
Answers to Archaeological Issues is highly ologists who are experienced in bringing
recommended for historical archaeologists, documentary and artistic resources into their
not just historical zooarchaeologists. Beastly artifact interpretations.
Questions is a journey through the thought- The archaeological evidence for animal
provoking subfield of social zooarchaeology revolutions is explored, or as it is often
where Sykes uses her text as a tool to help referred to, human manipulation of animals
the reader think of archaeological animal through the process of domestication and
remains as meaning more than just meat on improvement. The topic of domestication
a plate. She articulately argues that animals is discussed along with the controversies or
have influenced human supernatural ideology, contradictions about how different animals
daily behaviors, concepts of landscape, and are viewed through the lenses of taming,
social structures and how these have changed sedentism, and dependency. While domesti-
through time and with major developments cation and other breed improvements have
such as human and animal diaspora. As illus- been considered secondary product revolu-
trated through archaeological research, docu- tions for draft, milk, eggs, horn, wool, skins,
mentary evidence, cross-cultural ethnographic and other materials, Sykes turns this around
comparisons, and personal anecdotes about to consider that these resources were and
her own animal cohabitants, Sykess argu- are actually primary products. The old milch
ments and questions are absolutely relevant cow, the old draft horse or ox, the sheep,
to zooarchaeology of the historical period. and the chicken that are very frequently
Throughout the chapters, Sykes addresses found in the archaeological record were
a range of topics within which archaeologists probably not reared for their meat. The
often place their collections while showing consumption of their meat came secondarily

Historical Archaeology, 2016, 50(2):192193.


Permission to reprint required.
REVIEWS 193

after a life of providing power, wool, eggs, often means activities that are discrete
or milk. Also important, Sykes emphasizes and compartmentalized to a special time
questions about what this meant for people, or location. While that is possible in
such as dramatic changes in lifestyles cohabi- human use of animals for ritual purposes,
tating with their animals, changes in social Sykes explores how ritual may play out
structures and gender roles, belief systems, throughout an animals life and not just
and even biology such as the genetic devel- at its death. Additionally, animals often
opment of high degrees of lactose tolerance and widely play roles in spiritual concerns
in central European populations. While in a more regular integrated way such as
domestication is often thought of as an medicines and their killing for everyday
ancient phenomenon, as a transition from food. Sykes also explains how ritual can
wild to dependent, breed development and be and often is secular in that everyday
diversification has been a regular practice behaviors are ritualistic. Looking at faunal
continuing through the modern day and remains in the perspective of everyday
therefore has great relevance to those study- ritual can again be relatable to historical
ing how people viewed and managed their archaeologists who have long studied secular
animals in more recent times. rituals aimed at socioeconomic maneuvering
Sykes uses the central chapters of her or conspicuous consumption.
text to explore the fluid roles animals played Beastly Questions is an enjoyable, stimu-
in regards to how people experience their lating exploration about what animals may
landscapes. Animals can define the land- have meant to past peoples. Sykes reminds
scape spatially as in parkland or wilderness, the reader about how our modern western
elite or common, as well as masculine or biases have led us to apply our social and
feminine. These questions push the reader religious structures to interpretations of the
to consider the skeletal remains of animals, past and the meaning of animals. Through
domestic or nondomestic, in these terms. the recognition of that bias, Sykes argues for
The roles that these animals play can raise the deeper consideration of animals as indi-
interesting questions about representations viduals that lived amongst humans and that
and proportions such as why are wild human-animal interactions transform both
animals often underrepresented in archaeo- parties (p. 5). Beastly Questions is highly
logical collections but they are central within recommended for all zooarchaeologists and
art, folklore, place-names, and mythologies, archaeologists who should seek to better
while more often the opposite is true of understand the dynamic relationships people
domestic animals that are recognized with and animals had throughout time.
great economic importance.
A social zooarchaeology would not Adam R. Heinrich
Monmouth University
be complete without discussion of ritual. Department of History and Anthropology
Many look for the aberration as evidence 400 Cedar Avenue
West Long Branch, NJ 07764-1898
of a symbolic or spiritual action, which