Animal bones from Welland Bank Quarry

Welland Bank Quarry, Lincolnshire, is the site of a Bronze Age settlement and associated field systems. Faunal assemblages of this date are relatively rare and the diversity of animals represented, coupled with the excellent preservation conditions across much of the site, makes it an extraordinary example.

The Site

The site of Welland Bank Quarry (NGR TF183079) is located at the junction of the Lower Welland Valley and the fen edge in Lincolnshire. It was excavated between 1993 and 1997, with the main episode of excavation conducted in 1997 under the direction of Francis Pryor and Tom Lane for Archaeological Project Services.

Welland Bank Quarry

A substantial ditch and bank construction represents the earliest activity at the locality, and is a feature likely to have been in use during the middle Bronze Age. Excavations revealed an extensive Bronze Age settlement and field systems. Additionally numerous pits, post holes and rectilinear field systems have also been excavated, while four post structures have been interpreted as the remains of granaries. Pottery associated with the site is of a homogenous nature, and is dated to the later Bronze Age and perhaps into the early Iron Age. An assemblage of animal bones, presumably dated to the same period, has also been recovered.

Photo taken by Tom Lane

Faunal remains

The faunal material is under study at the Zooarchaeology Lab of the University of Sheffield, UK (Umberto Albarella and Sarah Viner) in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Genoa, Italy (Daniela Marrazzo and Alessandra Spinetti). A full study of the material has already been carried out but comprehensive data analysis is waiting for funding.

The use of both hand excavation and wet sieving techniques at the site has led to excellent retrieval of animal bone. Favourable burial conditions have resulted in beautifully preserved faunal remains, many of which exhibit the smooth surface texture and dark brown colour often associated with waterlogged conditions.

In addition to the abundant remains of the main domestic animals (cattle, sheep, goats and pigs), wild animal bones were also fairly common at the site. Among the domesticates, cattle is the most common, followed by sheep/goat and pig (both in the hand-collected and sieved material) Goat represents about 20% of the total of caprine bones, which is unusually high for British sites. This is particularly surprising considering the wet environment present around the site, and may indicate that goats, perhaps alongside other livestock, were imported rather than bred locally.

Beaver bones were plentiful, some of which exhibited cut marks that suggest removal of the animal´s skin. This implies that beaver was being exploited for its fur. In addition, the concentration of bones of Castor fiber in specific areas of the site might be an indication that certain areas were designated for processing pelts. At the nearby Iron Age site of Haddenham a large proportion of beaver bones in an assemblage dominated by domestic cattle and sheep has provided local evidence of a system incorporating stock rearing and exploitation of wetland resources (Evans and Serjeantson, 1988). At this site beaver was exploited not only for its fur, but also as a source of meat (Evans and Serjeantson, 1988).

Beavers


Beaver mandible


Among the rarer specimens were a grey seal (Halichoerus grypus) pelvis and an almost complete Sus skull thatSeal pelvis probably belongs to a wild boar. A finely chopped and cut canid tibia is of a large size and shows prominent muscular attachments and may have belonged to a wolf (Canis lupus). Red deer and Roe deer were also exploited by the inhabitants of the settlement. Bird bones – solely represented by two heron (Ardea sp) specimens – and fish bones are rare.

Equid bones were found in a smaller quantity than those of other domestic animals, but were more commonly used for bone working. Often the working consisted of long grooves made along the length of bone. A horse metapodial with four holes drilled through its distal end and dark parallel lines crossing the shaft is of unknown function. The dark lines may be a consequence of painting or discolouration of material (e.g. rope) placed in contact with the bone.

Some cattle and sheep/goat bones were also worked into tools. Two cattle scapulae had numerous semi-circular notches cut into the blade. Notched objects similar to those found at Welland Bank Quarry and manufactured from cattle scapulae have been found on other European sites of contemporary date. Among the interpretations of these notched scapulae is their use as tools for flax or hide processing (Northe, 2001). Among other worked bones we have scoops, pointers and needle-like tools.

Equus metapodial

Bos scapula

References

  • Dymond, M. Lane, T. Pryor, F. and Trimble, D. (unpublished) Assessment Report Welland Bank Quarry, Deeping St James, Lincolnshire: Volume 1. Lincolnshire: Archaeological ProjectServices.
  • Evans, C. and Serjeantson, D. (1988) The backwater economy of a fen-edge community in the Iron
    Age: the Upper Delphs, Haddenham. Antiquity 62: 360-370.
  • Northe, A. (2001) Notched Implements made of Scapulae-Still a problem. In Crafting Bone:
    Skeletal Technologies through Time and Space (eds. A. M. Choyke and L. Bartosiewicz).
    BAR International Series 937.