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Livestock and animal husbandry in early medieval England
By Terry O’Connor
Quaternary International, Vol.346 (2014)
Abstract: Major themes in the zooarchaeological record regarding livestock and animal husbandry in England from the 5th to 11th Centuries AD are reviewed. The 5th–7th centuries, following the end of Roman rule, are particularly challenging, though evidence is emerging of greater continuity of pastoral production than the structural and artefactual record might suggest.
The re-emergence of nucleated settlements in the 8th century led to diversification of deposition, especially between monastic and trading sites. Comparing ‘Saxon’ and ‘Danelaw’ regions from the late 9th to early 11th centuries shows some hints of differing traditions, but with regional constraints predominating. For the future, new biomolecular research offers great potential, but will need to be driven by archaeological questions, not analytical opportunism.
Introduction: Between the 5th and 11th centuries, the region that we now call England underwent a series of historical and cultural changes, some of which materially affected the archaeological record, while others were changes of regime that were more visible historically than archaeologically. At the beginning of that period, England was emerging from four centuries as a province of Rome, and we are in the dark regarding the degree of continuing urban life, economic systems, and the impact on livestock management.
By the end of the period, urban life had been reinvented, cash-based economies were flourishing, the rural landscape was planned and productive, and England was worth invading. This paper offers a selective overview of the zooarchaeological record from England for this period, focusing on some of the major cultural changes and shifts of settlement pattern. The aim is not to provide a comprehensive review of all the available evidence, but to pick out several important themes within this period and to explore our current state of knowledge.