1 Month, 1 Object, 1 Archaeologist - May 2019

 

Four-horned Jacob sheep skull
Chosen by archaeozoologist Márta Daróczi-Szabó

Presumably 14-15th century
Found at Budapest I. Szent György Street 4-10 in 2005

 

Archaeozoologists (i.e. archaeological zoology specialists) rarely participate in excavations, and due to the nature of our work, the vast majority of animal remains get to us only during the recording of the finds after thorough cleaning. Thus, the unique shape of this skull was first noticed by the archaeologists and their excavation assistants working on the excavation lead by András Végh at 4–10 Szent György Street. The skull then was transported to the museum for further investigation. Although its exact date is not known, similar pieces found during the museum’s other excavations are from the 14-15th century, so we can safely say that this skull is probably from that period, too.

 

 

 

 

Sheep born with more than two horns are naturally a rarity (the phenomenon itself has genetic causes), therefore it is even more special when such a skull is discovered at an archaeological excavation, considering the many factors that play into its preservation. That is why it is such a lucky occurrence that six of them have been found in Hungary, five of which were unearthed at excavations of the Castle Museum. The skull shown here is the most complete of them, the rest are mostly fragments. Being 3-4 years old, the ram’s horn cores are approximately symmetrical: two of them are upward and slightly curved, while two are laterally curved downwards. There are hatchet traces both on the frontal bone and the base of the horns, that suggest the possibility that these special horns would have been preserved as a trophy together with the skull.

 

 

 

Such animals are first mentioned in a 17th-century Hungarian travel report, in which the author, Daniel Speer, mentions four- and even six-horned sheep, besides the “usual” two-horned sheep. The questions of whether these specimens were considered unique in the Middle Ages, of how they came to Hungary, whether their unusual appearance influenced their everyday use, whether anybody ever tried breeding them, or whether different superstitions were attached to them, still requires further research.

 

Márta Daróczi-Szabó
archaeozoologist

 

 


Mini interview  

 

Why did you become an archaeologist?
I do not remember exactly who or what formed my decision; however, I was probably influenced by my family in deciding as early as five years old that I am going to be an archaeologist.

 

Which period is your specialty and why?
Although I graduated with a specialization in the Middle Ages, my narrower field of expertise is archaeozoology, a field of science that extends over various archaeological periods. A pig tooth looks the same whether it comes from a copper age pit or a late medieval well. 

 

What do you like most in your profession?
Its variety – that I never know when we find something (that I, at least, consider to be) unique.

 

What is the hardest part of your job?
The fact that you want to achieve so much more than you actually have enough time to do.

 

What was the greatest surprise at an excavation for you?
I was working on the excavation at the nunnery of Veszprémvölgy when, while cleaning a promising lump of dirt, I glimpsed a unique object made of bone. Later, it turned out that it was the end of an abbess’s crosier made of a walrus’s tusk.

 

Why did you choose this particular object?
I wanted to choose an animal bone that can be interesting to the public for the first glance without further explanation or description. 

 


 

About the series

 

The Castle Museum of the Budapest History Museum has started a series entitled 1 Month - 1 Object - 1 Archaeologist in October 2017. Since August 2018, parts of the series are also available in English.  

 

All of the archaeological excavations in Budapest are carried out by the employees of the Budapest History Museum – the archaeologists of the Castle Museum are responsible for the ones connected to the Middle Ages. The objects unearthed during these digs become part of the Castle Museum’s collections.   

 

The aim of the series is to showcase the beauty and the importance of archaeology through personal stories by the employees of the Museum. There is always an interesting or exciting story connected to the object they one of them chooses in a respective month which not only tells you more about history but also about the relationship of the archaeologist to the item in question.

 

The series 1 Month - 1 Object - 1 Archaeologist is about showing the people behind the exhibitions – the ones who investigate, search, dig and look for connections between the past and the present; the ones whose choice hopefully provides something exciting to the visitors, joining together personal stories with historical knowledge strictly based on facts.   

 

The object chosen for a certain month is exhibited in the Királypince (King’s Cellar) which was originally a part of the medieval gardens.  

 

Parts of the series: