International Council
for Archaeozoology

NABO Zooarchaeology Working Group

 North Atlantic Biocultural Organization (NABO) is an international, interdisciplinary research and education cooperative formed in 1992. It participates as a working group in ICAZ as a regional association promoting Zooarchaeology and the integration of faunal research into multi-disciplinary projects in the field and laboratory in our region which on the circumpolar rim connects the Barents Sea and Labrador, with many extensions southwards (see website at, for enquiries contact NABO has sponsored ICAZ Zooarchaeology projects directly and by working in collaboration with other ICAZ working groups (notably Fish and Bird WG). Our objectives for ICAZ have been initially to aid N Atlantic zooarchaeologists with basic identification tools (especially for the more challenging birds, fish, and sea mammals), promote comparable recording and reporting (through common data management packages), and to work closely with excavators to upgrade and standardize recovery strategies (sieves & flotation everywhere).

We also work to more effectively integrate Zooarchaeology with Geoarchaeology, Archaeobotany, and with “normal” archaeology in our common investigations of the past within our wet and windy region. NABO also seeks to bridge natural science / social science divides and to promote more effective interdisciplinary as well as international communication. NABO general meetings (New York 1992, Glasgow 1994, Tromsø 1996, St John's Newfl. 1997, Reykjavik 1996, 1997, Akureyri 1999, Glasgow 2001, Copenhagen 2004, Québec 2006, Bradford 2008, Edinburgh 2010, 2011, Akureyri 2013) always have major zooarchaeological participation and smaller ad hoc workshops take place every year. NABO sponsors field schools, public outreach and community involvement, and encourages and supports students at all levels.

An early joint NABO / ICAZ project was the development of a simple but flexible bone recording and data management package now called NABONE (9th edition is available for download as freeware), following a very productive meeting of 27 active N Atlantic zooarchaeologists held at City University of New York in 1997. This package (now improved and lab-tested by a wide range of users) is based on MS Access and Excel and has provided a useful common recording and data storage and manipulation platform that has been widely adopted in the N Atlantic area. Full NABONE teaching packages (including osteological identification aids and class problems) have been mailed on DVD worldwide (653 sets as of Fall 2013, contact for this free package). The basic package is also available for free download from the NABO website:

A NABO/ICAZ Fish Remains WG collaboration in 2003-6 has resulted in another digital tool; FISHBONE 1.1 (freeware download available) which provides digital images and illustrations of multiple elements of the North Atlantic fish species most commonly encountered in archaeofauna in the area (and a useful cookbook as well). FISHBONE has helped standardize identifications in our region and has contributed to the widespread replacement of earlier (very restricted) element identifications to species level with a wider approach that has promoted new perspectives on early commercialization of fisheries in the North Atlantic and detected the source of the ca AD 1000 “Fish Event Horizon” in Britain and NW Europe (another Viking impact from Scandinavia).

In March 2009 NABO sponsored a bird and marine mammal working session hosted by U Edinburgh with participation by scholars from ICAZ Bird Working group, several UK science centers, and the Icelandic Inst. of Natural History. One result for ICAZ zooarchaeology was the extremely generous posting by Dr. Derek Yaldon of his monumental Leverhulme Trust funded British Isles Archaeological Bird Database on the NABO website as a free download.

In April 2012, NABO sponsored a half day session at the Society for American Archaeology meetings in Memphis (organized by Drs. Ramona Harrison and Ruth Maher) which is now moving towards publication. The session presented some interesting combinations of zooarchaeology and high resolution climatology, zooarchaeology and long term sustainable use of waterfowl, and osteology and stable isotope research.

In March 2013, NABO collaborated with the GROUPE DE RECHERCHE EN ARCHÉOMÉTRIE OF THE CELAT of Université Laval in Quebec in its Journée d’étude en Archéometrie symposium. This was hosted by Dr.s Jim Woollett, Allison Bain, and Reginald Auger and featured presentations in systematic regional approaches to comparing archaeofauna, zooarchaeology and modeling, and exciting new results from stable isotopes and ancient DNA.

NABO will collaborate with Université Laval in the January 2014 Society for Historical Archaeology meetings in Quebec, and George Hambrecht (U Maryland USA) is organizing a NABO sponsored session on Roots of the Anthropocene . NABO and U Maryland will also jointly sponsor a three day meeting in November 2013 on the contributions of zooarchaeology and environmental archaeology to investigating the controversial origins of the Anthropocene concept and the potential for an integrated approach to the archaeology of global change during the past 500 years. Those interested in participating and organizing sessions can contact George at

NABO has sponsored a graduate level field school in international and interdisciplinary archaeology in Iceland in collaboration with Archaeological Inst. Iceland, U Aberdeen, and CUNY since 1997 and have collaborated closely with U Bradford in an undergraduate level field school in Rousay in collaboration with Orkney College since 2009. Students interested in hands-on Zooarchaeology in a northern fieldwork context should check the NABO website for further information and links to more on these ongoing training opportunities.

In 2007-10 NABO represented ICAZ in the International Polar Year program ( with coordinated field and laboratory research in Faroes, Shetland, Iceland, and Greenland (funding generously provided by US National Science Foundation, Canada, and Denmark). This IPY was the first to incorporate social science and the participation of northern residents in the international science effort, and the first to actively investigate human impacts on the polar regions. The NABO teams were able to share data, students, and expertise effectively in large part due to the prior work in developing comparable data recovery and recording methods as part of ICAZ and the work of the field schools in training an excellent cadre of younger professionals who see international cross disciplinary collaboration as normal science. IPY field reports and unpublished zooarchaeology reports on work in Faroes, Shetland, Orkney, Iceland, and Greenland are all available for download at the NABO website. The NABO website also now features a Google Earth based project reporting system to display and provide access to project data and zooarchaeology reports, and we will be glad to post additional links and findings on this system.

In 2012-14 NABO was provided with $1.3 million by the US National Science Foundation to continue and expand collaborative international interdisciplinary excavations, laboratory work, and modeling efforts aimed at systematic comparisons between “long term human ecodynamics” in Iceland and Greenland. These two Scandinavian communities were settled in the Viking Age by a common Nordic/Celtic population, but rapidly diverged economically (and we believe socially as well) and of course their pathways came to very different endings. NABO collaborators have launched a series of ambitious new field and laboratory collaborations under this Comparative Island Ecodynamics project and are attempting to combine rescue excavation, innovative laboratory analysis, and active public outreach and engagement. Additional collaborators are most welcome, and updates on progress will be regularly posted on the NABO website.

In 2009-10, NABO was tasked by the US National Science Foundation to develop a series of meetings aimed at coordinating efforts to incorporate archaeology into a wider study of long term human ecodynamics and global change. This effort produced a major meeting at Eagle Hill Maine in October 2009, and a series of follow up meetings organized by Ben Fitzhugh. These meetings have led to the formation of a new Global Human Ecodynamics Alliance (GHEA) in 2010 aimed at promoting more effective use of the long term perspective of the past to serve present and future. In 2013 GHEA is now a recognized participant in the IHOPE (Integrated History and future of People on Earth) international initiative based in Sweden and chaired by Carole Crumley ( A GHEA volume edited by Payson Sheets and Jago Cooper was published in 2012, with subvention from NSF to Payson allowing distribution as a low cost paperback, e-book, and free pdf download for students and practitioners. (Cooper, J. & Sheets, P. 2012 (eds). Surviving Sudden Environmental Change: Lessons From Archaeology. University of Colorado Press, Boulder). ICAZ members are well placed to contribute to this new initiative, and are urged to check out the GHEA website and join this new group at (

NABO remains an informal research and education cooperative, membership is free and open to all. Please regularly check the NABO website for new reports, announcements, and collaborative projects. All are invited to the NABO 2013 open meeting hosted by the Stefansson Arctic Center of the University of Akureyri July 13-15th 2013, registration information is available on the NABO website. Unpublished NABO zooarchaeological lab reports (2001-13) are available as free pdf downloads, and more are being regularly added, and a selection of important unpublished doctoral theses also available for free download. The NABO website in 2012 has been cited by UK evaluators as an “excellent example of open scholarship and collaborative science”. All freeware products and pdf reports mentioned above are available at the NABO website at

This information was contributed by Thomas McGovern on May 25, 2013.