Centennial Museum gecko logo

Desert Diary

Archaeology/Dead Peccary


This page was designed with CSS and looks best in a CSS-aware browser—which, unfortunately, yours is not. However, the document should still be readable, though not presented in the most sophisticated manner.

Bioarchaeology is the study of biological materials recovered from archaeological sites. The aim is to reconstruct insofar as possible the environment that the inhabitants of the site lived in, how they used the biological resources, and how they affected their environment. As in any endeavor attempting to reconstruct the past, there are innumerable pitfalls. One of these is failure to communicate possible excavation weaknesses to the bioarchaeologist.

A telling example of this is where a New Mexican archeological pit house produced a canine tooth of what was obviously a peccary. However, not only was the site far north of the geographic range of the nearest kind of peccary, but it had characters that ruled out that kind. The interpretation created a trade route from New Mexico to Central America, where a different species occurs, to explain this oddity. The real explanation appeared years later, when the skeleton of an extinct peccary was revealed at the site. Some archaeologist obviously had dug beyond the walls: the grownup version of a kid who couldn't color within the lines.

pen and ink


Listen to the Audio (mp3 format) as recorded by KTEP, Public Radio for the Southwest.


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.