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Cattle of the British Neolithic Era Interim Analyses of Data Collected at Current site

Info: 2734 words (11 pages) Essay
Published: 8th Feb 2020 in Archaeology

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The sample of animal bones from both early and late Neolithic have increased with more sites being excavated. Some sites have smaller samples due to poor preservation and/or poor recovery. In this report, data from a Neolithic site in England will be analyzed and visualized in graphs. These graphs will then be interpreted, as an interim analyses of the findings at this Neolithic site. The site holds great importance because the data found here provides a sample that can be analyzed in conjuncture with knowledge developed over time. Domesticated cattle first appeared in England during the Neolithic and have remained a common element found in archaeological sites, especially in the context of food processing (Legge, A.J. 1984, 169-181) Changes in the human and animal relationships appear to have been sudden and dramatic with the appearance of  domestic animals and Neolithic pottery (Miracle, P. 2006, pp. 63-94). By studying the fauna at this site we will have insight into the regional and local variability in secondary products exploitation (Lynch, A.H, Hamilton, J & Hedges, R.E.M. 2008, pp. 1025-1039).

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For this data set the methods used to analyze the elements will be the calculation of the percentage alive at each fusion stage, so as to create a kill off pattern as well as osteometric analyses of the measurements of the cattle metacarpal.

The database Animal Bone Metrical Analyses Project (ABMAP) has been used to compare the data of this site to those of other sites discovered in England and Europe. It has similarly been used in the literature “An osteometrical method for sexing cattle bones: the metacarpals from 17th century Carnide, Lisbon, Portugal” (Davis et al.. 2018, 367-387).



Quantitative Data

Table 1. Skeletal part abundances (of selected elements) expressed in MNE for cattle



No. Fused




P. Humerus



D. Humerus



P. Radius



D. Radius






D. Metacarpal






P. Femur



D. Femur



P. Tibia



D. Tibia






D. Metatarsal



1st Phalanges



2nd Phalanges



Table 2. %Unfused in Each Fusion Stage



1 (7-10 months): Scapua, Pelvis


2 (12-18 months): d. humerus, p. radius, 1st phalange, 2nd phalange


3 (24-36 months): d. metacarpal, d. tibia, d. metatarsal


4 (36-48 months): p. humerus, d. radius, ulna, p. femur, d. femur, p. tibia, calcaneum


Example of Calculations completed to create Table 2. 

Stage 1:

Total : 27+54=81

TotalTotal Fused:8148=33

(% unfused) = (total unfused/total in stage) x 100

3381× 100=40.74%

Table 3. Measurements of 15 fused distal metacarpals

Bd (breadth of distal end)

Dd (depth of distal end)































Table 4. Cattle bones from the ABMAP database, including measurements and site locations.

Graph 1. Kill Off Pattern formulated from calculations relating to Table 1.

Graph 2. Relationship between the Dd and Bd (mm) of the distal end of 15 cattle metacarpals.



When interpreting the data from this site sex and size are both important and closely linked variables that must be considered (Davis et al.. 2018, pp. 367-387). However, it is often difficult to distinguish where they differ. The ratio of males to females can provide insight about hunting or husbandry strategies practiced by humans during the Neolithic period (Davis et al.. 2018, pp. 367-387).

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Kill Off Pattern

When considering the use of cattle at this particular site, analyses must be broadened to consider seasonality, and use of the cattle. Cattle at this time would have to graze during the spring summer and autumn, but the cattle would have no food source during the winter and thus, areas in the northern latitudes were very restricted in their exploitation of animals. (Dineley, M. 2006, pp. 56-62). During the early and middle of Neolithic time periods milk and cheese is thought to have been a symbolic currency for our ancestors (Dineley, M. 2006, pp. 56-62). However, during the Late Neolithic the importance of cattle came from their meat, especially in large animals such as cattle or hunted wild game such as aurochs. (Miracle, P. 2006, pp. 63-94) .

As seen in Table 1. the % unfused  increased in the latest fusion stages, indicating that the cattle were killed as they were older but before complete fusion (adulthood) had been reached during the Late Neolithic at Pupi´cina all of the major domestic animals were being herded primarily for meat (Miracle, P. 2006, pp. 63-94). Cattle appear to have been culled primarily for their meat towards the Late Neolithic time period (Miracle, P. 2006, pp. 63-94). However, Graph 1. indicated a kill of pattern of cattle as they got older. Looking at the age at deathL slaughter in infancy maximises availability of milk and cheese. Slaughter of juveniles or subadults maximises meat production and slater of adults indicates cattle beings used for labour (Isaakidou, V. 2006, pp. 95-112). Serjeantson mentions that there is evidence of this in the analysis of sherds from several Neolithic sites. The have shown “that dairy products were cooked or processed in some of the vessels” (Serjeantson, D. 2006, pp. 113-134).

Females vs Males

The productive potential of an animal is influenced partly by its age and sex (Isaakidou, V. 2006, pp. 95-112) Use of domestic cattle for primary carcass products was broadened to include the exploitation of secondary products in from the 4th-3rd millennia BC (Isaakidou, V. 2006, pp. 95-112). If you consider the evidence from Graph 1. Age classes that are evident in the cull need to be considered with the ratio of sexes surviving into adulthood.  The surviving cattle and their uses are thus reflected in the proportions of male and females (Legge, A.J. 1984, pp. 169-181). Males are known to have larger measurements than females. In Graph 2. Two groups can be identified, the first (in blue) with a smaller sixe measurement but quite numerous and the other group with a larger size and fewer cattle.  This indicates a larger presence of female cattle and could indicate that the cattle at the site were indeed used for secondary products.

A note on Aurochs

What is important to consider when analyzing the second set of data (Table 3.) is that within the distribution of cattle dimensions from the Neolithic sites, the relation to the possible presence of large wild cattle must be considered (Legge, A.J. 1984, pp. 169-181) This can included species such as Aurochs or the Urus. The aurochs were the largest of the wild game species present during the sixth millennium (Boyle, K.V. 2006, pp. 10-23) When looking at data from the database ABMAP wild animals such as the aurochsen are rare in Neolithic faunal assemblages. Occasionally, domestic cattle can be misidentified as aurochs (Lynch, A.H, Hamilton, J & Hedges, R.E.M. 2008, pp. 1025-1039) Female aurochs and male domestic cattle show considerably similar osteometric values (Lynch, A.H, Hamilton, J & Hedges, R.E.M. 2008, pp. 1025-1039). So when looking at Graph 2. one has to look at the second group (in red) critically. This group could be domestic male bulls or wild female aurochs. However, it is most probable that the second group represents the bulls kept to sow the females and to keep the herd structure. As well as the fact that wild and domesticated species have similar dietary preferences but the occupy different ecological niches (Lynch, A.H, Hamilton, J & Hedges, R.E.M. 2008, pp. 1025-1039).

Further Work

For further work on the present data, it could be valuable to explore the mitochondrial DNA in the elements of the assemblages and to also review the isotopic values of these. The reason for this is because with the analyses of the mitochondrial DNA and isotopic values an understanding can be taken from the data that reveals early domestication practices and can show the interaction between wild cattle and domesticated cattle. This would be especially useful for the data in Table 3. And Graph 2. It would confirm whether or not the second group is in fact domesticated bulls or wild female aurochs. Furthermore, the analyses of the contexts in which the elements were found could give great insight into the value humans at the site placed on the cattle. For example, if they were all buried in a particular area or in a particular context, evidence can be cross examined with social and cultural knowledge of the time to construct a value on the herd as a whole and the geographical area.


  • Boyle, K.V. 2006. Neolithic Wild Game Animals in Western Europe: the Question of Hunting. In: Serjeantson, D & Field, D eds. Animals in the Neolithic of Britain and Europe. Oxford: Oxbow Books, pp. 10-23
  • Cotton, J, Elsden, N, Pipe, A & Rayner L. 2006. Taming the Wild: A Final Neolithic/Earlier Bronze Age Aurochs Deposit from West London. In: Serjeantson, D & Field, D eds. Animals in the Neolithic Britain and Europe. Oxford: Oxbow Books, pp. 149-167
  • Davis et al.. 2018. An osteometrical method for sexing cattle bones: the metacarpals from 17th century Carnide, Lisbon, Portugal. Annalen des Naturhistorischen Museums in Wien. 120 (1), pp. 367–387.
  • Dineley, M. 2006. The Use of Spent Grain as Cattle Feed in the Neolithic. In: Serjeantson, D & Field, D eds. Animals in the Neolithic of Britain and Europe. Oxford: Oxbow Books, pp. 56-62
  • Isaakidou, V. 2006. Ploughing with Cows: Knossos and the Secondary Products Revolution. In: Serjeantson, D & Field, D eds. Animals in the Neolithic of Britain and Europe. Oxford: Oxbow Books, pp. 95-112
  • Legge, A.J. 1984. Aspects of Animal Husbandry. In: Mercer, R. Farming Practice in British Prehistory. : University Press, pp. 169-181
  • Lynch, A.H, Hamilton, J & Hedges, R.E.M. 2008. Where the wild things are: aurochs and cattle in England. Antiquity. 82 (1), pp. 1025–1039.
  • Miracle, P. 2006. Neolithic Shepherds and their Herds in the Northern Adriatic Basin. In: Serjeantson, D & Field, D eds. Animals in the Neolithic of Britain and Europe. Oxford: Oxbow Books, pp. 63-94
  • Serjeantson, D. 2005. ’Science is Measurement’; ABMAP, a Database of Domestic Animal Bone Measurements. Environmental Archaeology.10(1), pp. 97-103
  • Serjeantson, D. 2006. Food or Feast at Neolithic Runnymede?. In: Serjeantson, D & Field, D eds. Animals in the Neolithic Britain and Europe. Oxford: Oxbow Books, pp. 113-134


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