Refining the methods for identifying draught cattle in the archaeological record: Lessons from the semi-feral herd at Chillingham Park
journal contributionposted on 20.04.2021, 15:38 by Richard Thomas, Lauren Bellis, Rebecca Gordon, Matilda Holmes, Niels N Johannsen, Meghann Mahoney, David Smith
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.