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Refining the methods for identifying draught cattle in the archaeological record: Lessons from the semi-feral herd at Chillingham Park

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  • Richard Thomas, University of Leicester
  • ,
  • Lauren Bellis, University of Leicester
  • ,
  • Rebecca Gordon, Brereton Road
  • ,
  • Matilda Holmes, University of Leicester
  • ,
  • Niels N. Johannsen
  • Meghann Mahoney, Maryland Science Center
  • ,
  • David Smith, University of Birmingham

Objective: This study–> provides a baseline of pathological and sub-pathological changes in the lower-limb bones of a semi-feral herd of domestic cattle. The purpose is to refine an existing method for identifying the use of cattle for traction using zooarchaeological evidence. Methods: A published recording system for identifying draught cattle was applied to a sample of 15 individuals from Chillingham Park, Northumberland. Correlations were explored between individual pathological index values, the scores obtained for individual pathological/sub-pathological changes, and three biological variables: age, sex and body size. Results: Pathological index values in the Chillingham cattle were low. Positive correlations between individual pathological index values and age, sex and body size were identified. Broadening of the distal metacarpal, proximal and distal exostoses in the metatarsal, distal exostoses of the proximal phalanx, and proximal lipping and exostoses of the distal phalanx, were strongly correlated with age. Conclusions: Pathological index scores demonstrate that adaptive remodeling of the autopodia is low in a free-ranging population of cattle, supporting the view that more pronounced changes provide useful identifiers of traction use. Application of modified pathological index formulae to nine archaeological sites from England indicated that cattle were only intensively used for traction in the Roman and later medieval periods. Significance: This study refines the methods used to identify traction in the archaeological record through the consideration of cows and a wider range of ages than has been considered previously. Limitations: Only 15 individuals from the Chillingham herd were available for analysis. Suggestions for further research: The refined formulae should be applied to additional archaeological datasets from different regions and time periods to explore the changing exploitation of cattle for traction.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Paleopathology
Pages (from-to)84-93
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Part of this research was carried out as part of The 'FeedSax' project, which is supported by the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement no. 741752 . The College of Arts and Law and the School of History and Cultures at the University of Birmingham funded the fieldwork at Chillingham Park.

Funding Information:
We acknowledge the Chillingham Wild Cattle Association, particularly, Chris Leyland and John Fletcher, for providing specimens that underpinned this study. Thanks also to Roberto Martinez for facilitating access to the Chillingham Park cattle skeletons curated at the Natural History Museum, London. We are grateful to Stephanie Vann for providing access to the raw pathological index data from Cups Hotel, Colchester. RT would like to acknowledge the support of the University of Leicester for granting a period of research leave during which this study was written-up. Thanks to Stephen Hall, Holly Miller, the reviewers and journal editor, for providing helpful comments on earlier versions of this manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s)

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.

    Research areas

  • Chillingham Park, Domestic cattle, Metapodials, Phalanges, Traction, Zooarchaeology

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