Mammals and Birds from Launceston Castle, Cornwall: decline in status and the rise of agriculture by Umberto Albarella & Simon Davis

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Over 9,000 hand-recovered animal bones and teeth were identified and recorded from the excavations at Launceston Castle, Cornwall, U.K. Most were recorded from deposits assigned to four periods: 6 (late 13th century), 8 (15th century), 9 (16th century–1650) and 10+11 (1660–1840) and belong to cattle, sheep and pig, as well as a wide spectrum of other mammals and birds. Some are species known to have been highly esteemed by medieval gourmands and, together with the prevalence of hind-limb bones of deer, presumably from haunches, attest to the high status of the diners at Launceston. Considered with other castle, urban and villages sites in England, the vertebrate assemblages from Periods 6 and 8 are like those from other castles, while the assemblage from Period 10+11 is more `urban´ in character, and the one from period 9 is indeterminate. The decline of the high status aspects of the fauna in the upper levels correlates with historical references to the castle´s decline. Like most vertebrate assemblages from English archaeological sites, the pig declined in importance relative to cattle and sheep in later medieval times. The numbers of juvenile cattle increase while there was little change in the ages of sheep culled in the Launceston succession. The sheep, pig and cattle remains show an increase in size by Period 9. For the cattle this size increase was accompanied by a change of shape of the metatarsals and astragali and the reduced frequency of a dental anomaly. All these changes probably reflect improvements in husbandry and the possible import of livestock. A contemporaneous increase in size of cattle and sheep bones is reported from some other sites in England and is probably linked with the Agricultural Revolution. We argue that these changes support the notion that English agricultural improvements began in Elizabethan rather than Georgian times.

Paperback: 156p, Monographic issue of the journal Circaea 12(1), York 1996, ISSN: 0268-425X
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