New Research Published – suggests long-distance movement of cattle in the Bronze Age

Chillingham_Bull. Thanks to Sally Holmes
Chillingham Cattle. Thanks to Sally Holmes.

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).

Cattle Tooth with enamel sequentially sampled for isotope analysis
Cattle tooth with enamel sequentially sampled for isotope analysis

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.

Cattle mandible - occlusal (biting surface) view
Cattle Mandible – occlusal (biting surface) view

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.

‘Our Islands, Our Past’ Conference-International Speaker Line-up.

Ring of Brodgar
Ring of Brodgar. Photo: Jim Richardson.

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute looks forward to welcoming an impressive line-up of speakers and contributors to the ‘Our Islands, Our Past’ Conference on the 14th- 17th September.

The conference sessions include speakers from around the globe on themes relevant to island life – past, present and future.

  • Session One: The Three Islands Group Research Framework (more on this session in a later separate blog)
  • Session Two: Identity and Culture
  • Session Three: Sustainability and Conservation
  • Session Four: Migration and Abandonment
  • Session Five: Connectivity and Travel
  • Session Six: Island Culture and Place

We look forward to welcoming an international array of delegates including  Adam Markham, Deputy Director of Climate & Energy the Union of Concerned Scientists, who will be opening Session Three with a paper entitled: Climate Change, Island World Heritage, and Lessons from Community Responses.

Adam writes in his abstract,Cultural resources, including archaeology, historic sites and intangible heritage are at risk from climate change on islands the world over. Climate impacts include sea level rise, coastal erosion, and extreme weather events. Irreplaceable archaeological and other cultural resources are being lost at an alarming rate, and with them, important and sacred places, and some of the stories and histories that help provide peoples’ sense of belonging. Island World Heritage sites provide an opportunity to draw local and international attention to the threat posed by climate change and to the special circumstances island communities face in responding to change. ”

Come along and listen to Adam in person at 11am Saturday 16th September 2017 when he is scheduled to present his paper.

Everyone is welcome to attend…register by sending in the Conference Registration Form to archaeologyconference@uhi.ac.uk.

See our Conference website for more details on ‘Our Islands, Our Past’ Conference 2017.

Follow the conference on Twitter #oiopconference