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Durham e-Theses
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Offspring of the Aurochs: A comparison of a reference collection of Dexter cattle skeletons with archaeological and historical data

GIDNEY, LOUISA,JANE (2013) Offspring of the Aurochs: A comparison of a reference collection of Dexter cattle skeletons with archaeological and historical data. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



This thesis aimed to re-evaluate archaeological interpretations of cattle exploitation strategies and propose new and integrated interpretations informed by archaeological and historical evidence. In addition, the study used the modern Dexter breed as a comparandum for the small cattle represented on British archaeological sites from the Bronze Age onwards. Data from a real death assemblage of forty complete and partial skeletons of Dexter cattle in the author’s reference collection, ranging in age from stillborn calves to an eighteen year old cow, and eight partial skeletons of juvenile Jersey and Jersey cross cattle were presented.
The analysis was approached from the management of live cattle by age and sex groupings, rather than bones, an approach influenced by recent archaeological interpretations of the concept of the Operational Chain, or ‘biography’, incorporating the social aspect into the analysis. Critical examination and integration of information from historical and modern sources pertaining to husbandry, together with observations made in the author’s Dexter herd, were used to give insights into the reconstruction of herding strategies.
The data from the Dexters, of known life history, demonstrated that simplistic hypotheses, for example equating a suite of pathological changes as evidence for draught cattle, are untenable and also suggested a new interpretation of the aetiology of osteochondrosis in young male cattle. The dwarf cattle in the Dexter sample demonstrated the difficulty of recognising bones of such animals in highly fragmented assemblages but also that metrical separation from estimated withers heights is feasible. Interpretations of “improvement” in cattle size prior to the 18th century were debated in detail. Both “profit” and the input of women in dairy-based herding were proposed as driving forces for variations in cattle size and the age and sex groupings in the slaughter population.
The Dexter data were shown to be applicable to the interpretation of archaeological cattle bone assemblages from a wide range of prehistoric to later post-medieval sites in England and Wales.
This thesis has demonstrated that new and nuanced interpretations of cattle bone assemblages are possible, integrating foodways and social aspects of herding.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Cattle Dexter Aurochs Bull Cow Calf Ox Dwarf Pathology
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Archaeology, Department of
Thesis Date:2013
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:23 Apr 2014 10:26

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