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The mammal and bird bones from Gillow Farm, Hentland, Herefordshire

Ian L. Baxter BA MIFA

Introduction

A total of 285 fragments of animal bones were recovered by hand-collection from the site. Of this total, 82 fragments could be identified to some extent (Table 1). The remainder are primarily highly comminuted fragments of domestic mammal bones. The bones are variably preserved but most are in fairly poor condition. All fragments have been recorded on an Access database. The wear stages of cattle, sheep/goat and pig were recorded following the method of Grant (1982). The finds were derived from a “destruction” layer containing medieval pottery shards dating to the 11th-12th (or possibly 13th) centuries AD, recorded three-dimensionally and allocated numbers. Because of the poor state of preservation and high level of fragmentation of the animal bones some identifications are tentative. Rib and vertebra fragments have been grouped according to size as Large Mammal and Medium Mammal.  

Frequency of species

The most numerous identified fragments derive from sheep/goat and account for 36% of the total that could be identified beyond a general taxonomic level. Cattle account for 24%, pig for 19%, horse 4% and domestic fowl for 7%. The remains of wild species amount to 9% of the total and consist of lagomorphs and birds.

Discussion 

No bones of the domestic food species were sufficiently preserved to give any indication of the size or character of the animals represented. Only a single caprid mandible (1323) could be identified as sheep (Payne 1985) and none of the remains seen can be attributed to goat. There are insufficient teeth and long bone epiphyses present in the assemblage to reconstruct and age profile for any of the major domesticates. Pig canines recovered comprise a lower and upper tooth from females (851 and 1333). A sheep/goat upper molar (1227) has caries (Plate 4). This is not common in caprids but the present author has seen a Romano-British example from the Hinxton Genome site in Cambridgeshire (Baxter work in progress). The frontal of a juvenile pig (1331) has been gnawed by rodents along the supraorbital (Plate 5). The species responsible was most probably rat judging by the size and spacing of the marks left by the incisor teeth. Horse remains include articulating distal 1st phalanx and proximal 2nd phalanx fragments (943) and an astragalus (1244) with polishing of the distal articular surface indicative of the early onset of osteoarthritis. The astragalus was measured using the system of von den Driesch (1976). Chicken bones include those of juveniles.

 Wild species include two large lagomorph distal humeri (861 and 1247) that most probably belong to hare and a rabbit sized ilium fragment (1231). A goose carpometacarpus fragment (1236) could belong to a domestic or wild bird. The axis vertebra of a hawk (Accipitridae) (927) probably belongs to a buzzard or red kite (Plates 1-3). It is morphologically distinct from that of a goshawk (S. Hamilton-Dyer pers. comm.). The other wild bird bones recovered belong to Corvids: a crow or rook distal tibiotarsus fragment (1193) and a probable jackdaw distal femur (1246).

Conclusion

This small assemblage is dominated by the bones and teeth of the domestic food species, cattle, sheep, pig and fowl. Almost all the bones are highly fragmented and, in general, poorly preserved. Of the wild, or possibly wild, species only goose and the lagomorphs represent possible dietary items. The wild birds are most probably accidental inclusions of species frequenting the general area of the site. Neither the buzzard nor the kite are birds associated with falconry, but scavengers and opportunistic predators classified as vermin in the mid-15th century (Martin 1992).

Acknowledgement

The author would like to thank Sheila Hamilton-Dyer for her identification of the hawk vertebra.

 References 

Driesch, A. von den. 1976. A Guide to the Measurement of Animal Bones from Archaeological Sites. Peabody Mus. Bull. 1. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University.

Grant, A. 1982. The Use of Tooth Wear as a Guide to the Age of Domestic Ungulates. In: Wilson, B., Grigson, C. and Payne, S. (eds.). Ageing and Sexing Animal Bones from Archaeological Sites. BAR Brit. Ser. 109: Oxford, pp. 91-108.

Martin, B.P. 1992. Birds of Prey of the British Isles. Newton Abbot: David & Charles. 

Payne, S. 1985. Morphological distinctions between the mandibular teeth of young sheep, Ovis, and goats, Capra. Journal of Archaeological Science 12: 139-147. 

Hawk axis vertebra lateral aspect.

 

 

 

Hawk axis vertebra anterior aspect

 

 

 

Hawk axis vertebra posterior aspect

 

 

Sheep/goat upper molar tooth with caries

 

 

Pig frontal gnawed by rodents

 

   
   

Table 1. Gillow Farm. Number of hand-collected mammal and bird bones (NISP). 

Taxon

Total

Cattle (Bos f. domestic)

17

Sheep/Goat (Ovis/Capra f. domestic)

25

Sheep (Ovis f. domestic)

(1)

Pig (Sus scrofa)

13

Horse (Equus caballus)

3

Hare (Lepus sp.)

2

cf. Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus)

1

Large Mammal

5

Medium Mammal

7

Domestic Fowl (Gallus f. domestic)

5

Goose (Anser/Branta sp.)

1

Hawk (cf. Buteo buteo/Milvus milvus)

1

cf. Crow/Rook (Corvus corone/frugilegus)

1

cf. Jackdaw (Corvus monedula)

1

Unidentified

203

Total

285

“Sheep/Goat” includes specimens identified to species. Figures in parentheses are not included in period counts.

 
   
 

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maintained by Archenfield Archaeology Ltd

           

This project was part-financed by the European Union (EAGGF) and DEFRA through the Herefordshire Rivers LEADER+ Programme.