Research Paper Published : Toiling with Teeth.

An integrated dental analysis of sheep and cattle in Iron Age and Viking -Late Norse Orkney. First author: Dr. Ingrid Mainland


  • The potential is demonstrated for zooarchaeology of integrated dental analyses
  • Regional redistribution and control of pastoral resources is identified in Late Iron Age Orkney
  • Herding systems in Norse Orkney indicate a pre 12th Century AD development of manorial estates


A key goal for archaeozoology is to define and characterise pastoral farming strategies – how did people in the Middle Iron Age / Viking Late Norse period organise their farming ?

In the last decade, some of the most innovative approaches for addressing these questions have centred on the mammalian dentition, including sampling of stable isotopes, dental microwear analysis and the study of dental disease. It is when these techniques are integrated and combined with more traditional approaches, such as tooth eruption and wear, however, that their full potential is realised. In this article we demonstrate how such an integrated dental analysis combining isotopes, microwear, dental development, dental pathologies, tooth eruption and wear can be used to elucidate changing pastoral practices and their impacts on the landscape from the Iron Age and Viking-Late Norse periods in the North Atlantic islands, a period of significant socio-economic and cultural change in this region.

Analysis focuses on two case study sites, Mine Howe, dating to the Atlantic Middle Iron Age and the Earl’s Bu, one of the residences of the Orkney Earl’s from the 10th to 13/14th centuries AD. Each of the techniques applied to the sheep/goat and cattle dentition identifies clear differences between the two sites, in diet, in culling season, herd health and stress levels, all of which point to potential differences in underlying husbandry practices. These are related to wider socio-economic developments in Orkney at these periods, specifically increasing control of pastoral resources and economic production by North Atlantic elites in the Middle Iron Age and the emergence of manorial estates in Late Norse/Early Medieval Scandinavia.

For the full paper click Toiling with Teeth