Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner - Ep 10


This episode is all about chickens! How to eat them. How to identify them. Different types. All things chicken. There’s even a few chicken jokes.


The Silkie Bantam

The Silkie Bantam



A Horse, Of Course - Ep 09


On today's episode of ArchaeoAnimals, we'll be talking about horse bones! Why are they so venerated in the past? How is this reflected in the way we find horse burials? And why are their bones just so large and scary?!

We were also joined by two zooarchaeology researchers, Rúnar Leifsson and Albína Hulda Pálsdóttir, who have told us all about their fascinating research on Icelandic horses!



  • Hillson, S. (1992) Mammal Bones and Teeth: An Introductory Guide to Methods of Identification. London: University College London Institute of Archaeology

  • Fagan, B. (2015) The Intimate Bond: How animals shaped human history. London: Bloomsbury Press



Everything is Ritual! - Ep 8

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Wait (1985) "Ritual" is beliefs and behaviors functioning together.

When identifying ritual, context is everything. In the case of zooarchaeology, the location of the remains alone has much inference on whether ritual activity is involved. A notable example is perhaps the burial of dogs (or parts thereof) at the threshold of a structure, which is seen from the Neolithic down to Iron Age, from Italy to Kazakhstan, through Sweden and Britain. Ultimately, as is the case for the near entirety of populations which have not left a written record behind, we can only infer on intent and make a pretty good educated guess, but we will never know the full story. It is perhaps what is most fascinating about ritual: not the action itself, but the intent behind it.


  • Covesea Caves Project

  • -Cunliffe, B. (1992) Pits, Preconceptions, and Propitation in the British Iron Age. Oxford Journal of Archaeology 11 (1). pp. 69-83.

  • Morris, J. (2008) Associated Bone Groups: One Archaeologist's Rubbish is Another's Ritual Deposition. In "Changing Perspectives on the First Millennium BC: Proceedings of the Iron Age Research Student Seminar 2008". Oxbow Books.

  • Russell, N. (2012) Social Zooarchaeology. Cambridge University Press.

  • Wait, G.A. (1984) Ritual and Religion in Iron Age Britain. BAR British Series.

  • Grant, Annie (1989) Animals and Ritual in Early Britain: The visible and the invisible. In L’Animal dans les Pratiques Religieuses: Les Manifestations Materielles. J.-D. Vigne, ed. Pp. 341-355. Antrhopozoologica, Vol. 3. Paris: Editions du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique



The Cat's Out Of The Bag - Ep 07

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Felis catus is the domesticated form of the African wildcat Felis s. lybica. The latter is believed to have been domesticated in the Near East at the time of the Neolithic agricultural revolution, where keeping pests away from grain storage would have been paramount. It likely that, much like other domesticates, several domestication attempts would have taken place across time and geographical regions.

As rodents such as the rat and house mouse hitchhiked their way across Europe, cats were soon to follow. One notable case is perhaps Cyprus, which was never attached to the mainland and had no native cat population. Cats’ sudden appearance around 7500BCE (most notably with a young adult individual associated with a human burial) thus imply that these would have been tamed wildcats at the very least which had been brought to Cyprus by boat.

Perceptions of domestic cats were somewhat ambivalent, as can still be perceived from contemporary folklore. This led to them being viewed as creatures imbued with supernatural abilities, both revered and reviled. Cats were notably worshipped in Ancient Egypt, yet killed by the hundreds to be sold as mummies; persecuted in the Medieval period for supposedly being witches’ familiars, or simply being viewed as ratters or even pests. While their ‘dog cousins’ were being selectively bred for a variety of functions, cats merely lingered at the edge of human settlements - though cases of companionship exist. It was in fact not until the late 18th century that the cat fancy developed along with the vast majority of the breeds we see today.

It’s not easy being a cat.

Case Studies

  • Gussage All Saints

  • Dried Cats

  • Cyprus cat burials

Further Reading

  • Archaeology of the Domestic Cat

  • Dried Cats


  • Brian Hoggard, 'Concealed Animals', in Ronald Hutton, The Physical Evidence for Ritual Acts, Sorcery and Witchcraft in Christian Britain, 2015, Palgrave, pp106-117.

  • Brian Hoggard, 'The archaeology of counter-witchcraft and popular magic', in Owen Davies & Willem de Blecourt, Beyond the Witch-Trials, 2004, Manchester University Press, pp167-186.

  • Margaret M Howard, ‘Dried Cats’, Man, no 252, November 1951, pp149-151.

  • Ralph Merrifield, The Archaeology of Ritual and Magic, 1987, Batsford, London.

  • Bradshaw, J. (2013) Cat sense: The Feline Enigma Revealed. London, Penguin Books

  • Clutton-Brock, J. (1994) The British Museum Book of Cats. London, The British Museum Press

  • Fagan, B. (2015) The Intimate Bond: How animals shaped human history. London: Bloomsbury Press

  • Toynbee, J.M.C. (2013) Animals in Roman Life & Art. Barnsley: Pen & Sword

  • Van Grouw, K. (2018) Unnatural Selection. Oxfordshire: Princeton University Press

  • Houlbrook, C. and Armitage, N. (Eds.) (2015) The Materiality of Magic. Oxford: Oxbow Books.



Cow-abunga! - Ep 06

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Cattle domestication

Modern domestic cattle descends from the aurochs (Bos primigenius). The dynamics of aurochs domestication is, as always when domestication is concerned, not well understood as of yet. They were supposedly domesticated in SW Asia some 8,000 years BP.

How do we identify cattle bones?

Cattle bones are usually identified by their large size (compared to most animals encountered within archaeological assemblages) and a number of morphological features which distinguish them from other large mammals, such as horse and red deer (C. elaphus). The latter are in fact often mistaken for cows, the reason for this being threefold. Firstly, the fragmented nature of archaeological remains and a bias towards cattle ID (due to their higher frequency when compared to deer) means red deer elements are sometimes identified as cattle. Secondly, prehistoric cattle was smaller than their modern counterparts, making it easier to confuse their remains with those of red deer. When complete specimens are present, the morphological differences between cattle, horse and red deer are however easily distinguishable.

What do cattle remains often indicate in an assemblage?

They can provide inference on the economy of the settlement (e.g. meat or dairy production), although it is important to remember that in the past many settlements probably had a somewhat mixed economy. This is usually carried out by analyzing the age profiles of your assemblage.

Cattle remains may be able to offer insight on the culture of a particular settlement. For instance, in Britain, more romanized sites are likely to have a higher number of cattle within their assemblages. A high number of cattle remains are sometimes also indicative of a military site.


Fig. 1.    Iron Age Cow Skull with Pole Axe Damage.

Fig. 1. Iron Age Cow Skull with Pole Axe Damage.

Further Reading

  • Bloody Slaughter: Ritual Decapitation and Display At the Viking Settlement of Hofstaðir, Iceland

  • Morris, J. (2011) Investigating Animal Burials: Ritual, mundane and beyond

    • BAR British Series 535

  • -Hillson, S. (1992) Mammal Bones and Teeth: An Introductory Guide to Methods of Identification

    • London: University College London Institute of Archaeology

  • O’Connor, T. & Sykes, N. (Eds.) (2010) Extinctions and Invasions: A Social History of British Fauna

    • Windgather Press

  • Fagan, B. (2015) The Intimate Bond: How animals shaped human history

    • London: Bloomsbury Press

  • Toynbee, J.M.C. (2013) Animals in Roman Life & Art

    • Barnsley: Pen & Sword

  • Merrifield, R. (1987) The Archaeology of Ritual and Magic

    • London: Guild Publishing London

  • Van Grouw, K. (2018) Unnatural Selection

    • Oxfordshire: Princeton University Press

  • Knickers (2018) Knickers, the magical Australian steer

    • Cleavers Press