Dr Ingrid Mainland of the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute is the co-author of a new investigation into the origins and husbandry of Mid-Late Bronze Age cattle – now published in the Journal of Archaeological Science Reports.
The authors include Jacqueline Towers & Julie Bond of the University of Bradford, Jane Evans of the British Geological Survey, Ingrid Mainland of the UHI Archaeology Institute and Janet Montgomery of Durham University.
Bioarchaeological evidence suggests that the site of Grimes Graves, Norfolk, characterised by the remains of several hundred Late Neolithic ﬂint mineshafts, was a permanently settled community with a mixed farming economy during the Mid-Late Bronze Age (c. 1400 BCE – c. 800 BCE).
The aim of this study was to investigate, through isotope ratio analysis (87Sr/86Sr, δ13C and δ18O), the origins and husbandry of Bronze Age cattle (Bos taurus) excavated from a mineshaft known as the “1972 shaft”. Strontium isotope ratios from the molar enamel of ten Grimes Graves cattle were compared with eight modern animals from the Chillingham Wild White cattle herd, Northumberland.
The range of 87Sr/86Sr values for the modern cattle with known restricted mobility was low (0.00062) while the values for the Grimes Graves cattle varied much more widely (range = 0.00357) and suggest that at least ﬁve of the cattle were not born locally. Two of these animals were likely to have originated at a distance of ≥150 km.
Intra-tooth δ13Cproﬁles for eight of the Grimes Graves cattle show higher δ13Cvalues compared to those of Early Bronze Age cattle from central England. Most of these proﬁles also display pronounced shifts in δ13C during the period of enamel formation.
One possible interpretation is that the cattle were subject to dietary change resulting from movement between habitats with diﬀerent vegetation δ13C values. More comparative data, both archaeological and modern, is required to validate this interpretation.
The multi-isotope approach employed in this study suggests that certain cattle husbandry and/or landscape management practices may have been widely adopted throughout central Britain during the Mid-Late Bronze Age.
The full report can be downloaded from the Journal of Archaeological Science Reports. You may have to subscribe to the journal if you or your organisation are not members.