Appendix 6: The Animal Bone

Lorrain Higbee

Cite this as: Higbee, L. The Animal Bone in N. Corcos et al. Excavations in 2014 at Wade Street, Bristol - a documentary and archaeological analysis, Internet Archaeology 45.


Table 15: Animal bone: number of identified specimens present (or NISP) by period
Total identified154
large mammal89
medium mammal58
small mammal1
Total unidentified158
Overall total312

The assemblage comprises 312 fragments of animal bone of late post-medieval and early modern date. Bone preservation is generally good and as a result c. 50% of fragments can be identified to species and skeletal element (Table 15).


The assemblage was assessed by rapid scanning and quantified in terms of the number of identified specimens present (or NISP). Notes were also made about the preservation condition and skeletal element representation of bones from individual contexts and/or features. Information, such as fusion and tooth ageing data, butchery marks, metrical data, pathology and non-metric traits, was quantified but not recorded in detail. This information was directly recorded into a spreadsheet and cross-referenced with relevant contextual information.


Preservation and fragmentation

Bone preservation is extremely good and the number of gnawed bones is quite low at c. 5%. The preservation condition is such that even surface details such as fine knife cuts are clear and easily observed.

Late post-medieval to early modern

Bone was recovered from 45 separate contexts and there are between 1 to 45 fragments per context, although the majority yielded less than ten fragments each. The largest groups are from contexts 1046 and 1145, and these deposits include bone waste from different stages in the carcass reduction sequence, from primary butchery through to domestic consumption.

The identified fragments are mostly from livestock species (Table 15). Sheep/goat bones are common (47% NISP) and most parts of the mutton carcass are represented in the assemblage. All of the sheep/goat bones and teeth are from adult animals that have been culled from wool flocks. This mortality pattern is typical for urban assemblages of this date range and reflects the importance of the wool industry to the local rural economy.

Cattle bones are also fairly numerous (34% NISP) and again, both cranial and post-cranial elements are represented. It is clear from the butchery evidence that the secondary and tertiary reduction of cattle carcasses was achieved using a tool with a serrated blade, which has left characteristic striations on the cut surface. The most likely implement is a hack-saw of the type used in butchers' shops today. Another characteristic of the butchery seen on cattle bones is the way in which vertebrae had been cut along the mid-line (i.e. dorso-ventrally), a technique that would have divided the carcass into left and right sides, and one that is more commonly seen on more recent material.

Pig bones are relatively rare at only 13% NISP, but the range of body parts is enough to suggest that, similar to the other two livestock species, the pig bone assemblage includes bone waste from different processes (i.e. butchery and consumption). Less common species include horse, cat, rabbit, domestic goose and duck. Horse is represented by two loose teeth, cat by a single vertebra, rabbit by a fragment of distal tibia, goose by four wing bones, and duck by a single carpometacarpal. The rabbit and domestic poultry undoubtedly represent food waste, while horse and cat represent casualty animals, the bones of which have been incorporated into more general waste (Thomas 2005).


The animal bone assemblage recovered from Wade Street is fairly typical of the type of mixed waste commonly deposited on urban sites during the late post-medieval and modern periods. The principle sources of animal-based protein were mutton, beef and pork, and these were supplemented with the occasional bit of rabbit and poultry.

The assemblage is well preserved but includes only 154 identified fragments, and this limits its potential for further more detailed analysis. It has been recorded to a sufficient level of detail for the archive, but in and of itself it adds little to our understanding of the site or the wider economy.


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