Research student projects

Animals and ontologies in Neolithic long barrows

Emily BanfieldCattle (Bos taurus) frontal fragment, horncore perforated at base. Horslip long barrow, Avebury, Wiltshire (Midlands3Cities)

Neolithic long barrows are amongst the earliest monumental structures to survive in the British archaeological record and have been the subject of archaeological and antiquarian interest for over 200 years. Although concentrated in the Wessex region, examples can be found across Britain and Wales. Recent re-examination of Neolithic long barrow deposits in the Wessex region have begun to transform understanding of these structures and the period as a whole, although with one exception, the focus has remained anthropocentric. Animal bones from long barrows are still widely interpreted as either offerings, or resultant of consumption associated with the interment of human remains. The unquestioned attribution of animals to a secondary position is surprising considering the impact of domestication upon human/animal relationships. This study seeks to understand the roles and meaning of animals in long barrow deposits through analysis of the faunal composition of assemblages and the treatment of remains. Comparisons will be made with assemblages from different site types from the same period. Consideration will be accorded to the nature of deposits, and the biographies and behaviours of the animals included. Ethnographic material will inform interpretation, enabling the development of ideas to explain the character of human/animal relationships being expressed and the role of the animal in the creation of human identity.

Revealing Reynard: a 10,000-year cultural biography of human-fox interactions

Nora Battermann (Midlands3Cities)

This research will unpick the complex cultural history of human-fox interactions in England to disclose how changing worldviews are reflected in the conceptualisation and treatment of animals. As a commensal species with crepuscular habits, the fox inhabits a liminal space: in Cartesian terms it can be seen to be ‘nature’ and ‘culture’, ‘wild’ and ‘domestic’. The ethology of the fox has generated a diverse range of human responses ranging from classification as vermin to incorporation into folk belief. The diversity of human responses to this animal makes it an ideal vehicle to explore the complexity and changing nature of human attitudes towards animals and ‘outsiders’. This interdisciplinary study will combine archaeology, biomolecular evidence and written sources (folklore, religious and philosophical). Taking a longue durée perspective will provide new insights into the impact of belief systems, cultural changes, and political and economic shifts on people’s conceptualisations of animals. The main research focus lies on zooarchaeological material, which will be compiled and enhanced by the re-analysis of archived material from Leicestershire to incorporate dietary stable isotope analysis.

A Dog’s life: an interdisciplinary study of changing human-animal relationships in Roman Britain

Lauren Bellis (Midlands3Cities)

This research investigates the impact of the Roman Empire on relationships between people and dogs within Britain. The Roman annexation is linked with a greater diversity of dog types, particularly very small 'toy' dogs; these changes may have been accompanied by new attitudes towards dogs within Britain. If so, this may indicate developments in how people perceived the natural world or even treated other humans, as links between animal and human abuse have been found in the present day.

It is possible that influence was not uniform, but varied between different social groups in Britain. Building on MA research, which indicated significant differences in dog welfare between urban and rural sites across Roman Britain, this work will examine the variation in relationships across social groups, geographic locations and time during the Roman occupation. Remains of dogs, stable isotope analysis and textual sources and artwork will be used. Given their importance in Roman society and close proximity to humans, the ways in which dogs influenced people and Romano-British society will be considered throughout the project.

An exploration of the identifiability of chicken breeds in the archaeological record

Alison Foster (CAHL)

It is likely that selection for favourable characteristics in domestic fowl has been occurring from at least Roman times; for example, 1st century agricultural commentators Columella and Varro both recommend chickens with five-toes. Although numerous detailed narratives focusing upon poultry husbandry survive from the 19th century, the intervening history of chicken breed development and the relationship between ancient antecedents and contemporary populations is poorly understood. Previous work has shown that diagnostic features on some skeletal elements, particularly tarsometatarsi and skulls, can be useful for identifying traits such as polydactyly, the creeper gene and cerebral hernia, indicating the presence of chickens which may have been the progenitors of five-toed Dorkings, short-legged Scots Dumpies and crested Polands. My research will develop methodologies to enable an exploration of whether chicken breeds can be further identified in the archaeological record using the major elements of the post-cranial skeleton and a combination of traditional biometrics and geometric morphometrics. It is hoped that this will increase understanding of social and economic pressures driving selection and breed development in this often overlooked species. This project is funded by the College of Arts, Humanities and Law and associated with the AHRC-funded “Cultural and Scientific Perceptions of Human-Chicken Interactions”.

Towards the creation of a digital dataset amalgamating the entirety of zoaorchaeological assemblage data within a GIS platform

Rebecca Kibble

The research aims at creating a digital dataset using GIS applications that can encode the full complexities of zooarchaeological assemblage data across multi-scalar boundaries. The study will encapsulate empirical research on faunal assemblage data, in terms of methodological procedures from data acquisition to final digital output. Fundamentally I will be using statistics to characterise and amalgamate multi-variate assemblage data into a singular comparative dataset by using the principles of Principal Component Analysis (PCA) and correspondence analysis; to facilitate more flexible and fluid temporal and spatial examination. Once such a dataset is created the second main aim is to establish how GIS can visualise and analyse the multi-variate, multi-scalar datasets produced within spatial and temporal domains. This has huge significance for the progression of GIS within archaeology, particularly within zooarchaeology in terms of creating a more robust way of recording, analysing and disseminating faunal assemblages. GIS needs to be able to handle and analyse archaeological data in terms of complex spatial and temporal domains to fully exploit the research potential of GIS applications specific to the archaeological discipline. My research will investigate the analytical potential of multi-variate and multi-scalar data to determine its use within archaeology.

Food, identity and humoral theory in early modern England: a case study from Leicestershire

Rachel Small (Midlands3Cities)

Archaeological studies of food have generally taken an isolationist approach considering animal and plant remains separately and most have failed to integrate written sources fully into their discussion. Furthermore, interpretations have tended to focus on the economics of production (e.g. an increase in the consumption of calves can be explained by a rise in dairy production) or on identifying aspects of dietary identity (most commonly social status). A major omission in current scholarship is consideration of humoral theory as a framework that guided contemporary attitudes to diet and good health. This was particularly true for the early modern period (c. 1450 – 1800) when it was believed that the body contained four humors (yellow bile, black bile, blood and phlegm) and good health lay in their balance. All foods had a particular humoral structure and when consumed affected the individual’s body. Correct diet achieved humoral balance and so determined good health.  This research will use a case-study of an early modern aristocratic household — Bradgate House, Leicestershire, home of the Grey family. As wealthy, literate individuals, at the forefront of cultural change (Bradgate House was one of the English brick built houses) they were likely to have been familiar with fashionable dietary advice. In this study archaeobotanical and zooarchaeological evidence from the Bradgate House excavations will be quantitatively integrated and reviewed together with the extant household accounts; dietary evidence will be contextualised through regional and national site comparison. Drawing on primary documentary sources this study will answer the research question ‘how did humoral theory influence consumption behaviour and the construction and negotiation of group identities in early modern England?'

Completed doctoral research projects:

Eric Tourigny Upper Canada foodways: An analysis of faunal remains recovered from urban household and rural farmstead sites in the area of York (Toronto), AD 1794-1900 (2016)

Meghann Mahoney Diet and provisioning in Roman small towns: a case study from Ashton, Northamptonshire (2015)

Rebecca Gordon Feeding the city: zooarchaeological perspectives on urban provisioning in post-medieval England (AD 1500-1900) (2015)

Brooklynne 'Tyr' Fothergill: The bird of the next dawn: the husbandry, transformation and translocation of the turkey (2012)

Matilda Holmes: Food and status in the Saxon and Scandinavian burhs (2011)

Judith Porcasi: Subsistence in palaeocoastal California (2008)

Stephanie Vann: A generic recording system for animal palaeopathology (2008)

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