Close Companions? A Zooarchaeological Study of the Human–Cattle Relationship in Medieval England
journal contributionposted on 21.05.2021, 11:07 by Matilda Holmes, Helena Hamerow, Richard Thomas
Across medieval Europe, cattle commanded a major, if shifting, economic and social value, and their use for meat, milk, and traction is well established. Although the changing roles of cattle throughout this period may have influenced relationships between humans and cattle, this has been largely neglected in historical and zooarchaeological studies. Data from nearly 700 archaeological assemblages of animal remains have been used to provide an overview of the herd structures (age and sex) of cattle populations for England between AD 450 and 1400. These have been analysed alongside pathological and sub-pathological changes in over 2800 lower limb bones of cattle from seventeen archaeological sites to provide a better understanding of the use of cattle for ploughing, hauling, and carting. The findings were considered alongside historical documents and ethnographic evidence to chart changing human–cattle relationships. Results indicate that human–cattle relations varied with changing economic, agricultural, and social practices. From the mid-fifth century, cattle were a form of portable wealth, however, by the mid-ninth century, they were perceived as a commodity with monetary value. From this period, close human–cattle bonds are likely to have been widespread between plough hands and working animals. Such bonds are may have diminished with the increasing number of young beef cattle kept to supply the urban population from the mid-eleventh century.