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Terry O'Connor read Archaeology at London University, specialising in field archaeology and the study of animal remains. On completion of a PhD in which sheep featured strongly, he worked at the Environmental Archaeology Unit, University of York for nine years, principally conducting zooarchaeological research on material from York. He then moved to the University of Bradford for a further nine years, teaching zooarchaeology and environmental archaeology.
Terry returned to York in 1999 and intends to stay here.
My research explores the relations between past peoples and the animals around them. Within that, I am particularly interested in how archaeological bone assemblages form, beginning with the disposal decisions that people make and going on through the action of scavengers, sediment chemistry, and the sampling decisions that we take on site. These taphonomic studies can seem to be over-detailed and pedantic, but understanding the formation of archaeological assemblages is fundamental to making credible and rigorous inferences from them.
A different line of research concerns the animals that have adapted to our homes and settlements and that live alongside us. We are familiar with rats and mice, pigeons and crows, today but for how long has this been going on? These commensal animals tell us something about the ecology of past settlements - what colonisation opportunities they offered - but may also tell us about past attitudes to animals. Are rats vermin or pets or just a convenient snack? A major book on this subject is planned for publication in 2012.
I have recently completed a major research project on livestock, deadstock and animal husbandry in towns across Viking Age Europe (in Environmental Archaeology 15 ), with further work and a major synthesis on urban assemblages from York. This has demonstrated the existence of spatial patterning in the condition and composition of faunal assemblages which relates to ‘neighbourhood’ patterns of selection, consumption and disposal. It has also highlighted the complexity of the taphonomic processes which need to be considered in these contexts. This research has led to the proposal of new methodologies for dealing with large urban assemblages, published in Archaeology of York 19(2).
At the same time, I have been pursuing research on the evidence for Late Upper Palaeolithic activity in the Karstic Dales of North Yorkshire. This has involved a detailed analysis and reappraisal of historic collections from cave excavations and the application of high precision C14 dating to human and animal material. The primary focus of this work has been to resolve stratigraphic problems with the deposits from specific caves and more general biostratigraphic issues relating to this distinctive region during a period of high amplitude climate change. This has led to a broader concern with the multi-period nature of many deposits of human and animal remains in caves, in particular, the use of caves for burial and other rites in the Mesolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age. This work continues, in collaboration with Dr Tim Taylor (University of Bradford) and Tom Lord.
One other area of research interest is the diagnosis and interpretation of animal palaeopathology. This is partly methodological, seeking to improve the criteria that we use in diagnosis (e.g. in Documenta Archaeobiologiae 6 ), and partly interpretive, using the prevalence of pathologies as another source of information on past peoples' use of and attitude towards the animals around them.
My published work includes a number of publications in the Archaeology of York series. Other major publications include the books The Archaeology of Animal Bones (Sutton, 2000), Biosphere to Lithosphere (Oxbow, 2005), Extinctions and Introductions (2010) and, with John Evans, Environmental Archaeology: Principles and Methods (Sutton, 1999; 2nd ed. 2005).