Close Companions? A Zooarchaeological Study of the Human–Cattle Relationship in Medieval England
School of Archaeology and Ancient History, University of Leicester, Leicester LE1 7RH, UK
School of Archaeology, Oxford University, Oxford OX1 2JD, UK
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: Joan Viciano Badal
Received: 11 March 2021
Revised: 14 April 2021
Accepted: 15 April 2021
Published: 20 April 2021
The population of medieval England (AD 400–1400) was largely employed in farming-related activities. Cattle were crucial as providers of power as well as milk, meat, and hides and were valued economically and socially. From the mid-seventh century, cattle husbandry increasingly relied on draught cattle for arable production and agricultural tasks such as ploughing, hauling, and carting. Analysis of cattle bones from archaeological sites permits the reconstruction of herd demographics and assessment of the use of cattle for traction through analysis of age and sex profiles, and the presence and severity of pathological and sub-pathological changes to the lower limb bones of cattle. When combined with ethnographic studies and historical documents, it is possible to perceive how attitudes to cattle have changed over time. By integrating multiple lines of evidence (archaeological, ethnographic, and historical), this study reveals how the value of cattle changed over time from a status symbol (representing accumulated wealth) to a commodity. A peak in the use of cattle for traction between the mid-ninth and mid-eleventh centuries may have increased the proximity of human–cattle bonds, which perhaps diminished in subsequent years as the demand for younger cattle increased to feed a growing urban population.