2.5 Zooarchaeological research

The Dutch River Area offers huge potential for zooarchaeological research, due to the excellent preservation conditions of the clay soils and high water tables. Zooarchaeological analysis of the animal bone assemblages from the three sites (two rural settlements and one cemetery) in Tiel-Passewaaij has resulted in 10,545 identified fragments from datable features. The total number of fragments was close to 30,000. For a full presentation and discussion of the results, we refer to the main publication of the zooarchaeological analysis (Groot 2008a).

The analysis of the animal bones from Tiel-Passewaaij focused on three main topics: the agrarian economy, funerary ritual, and rituals that took place in the settlements and involved animals.

The development of the livestock economy of small rural communities in the Dutch River Area shows a move from a subsistence economy to one that also produced a surplus, either as taxation or for a market (Roymans 1996, 82, 86-87). The Late Iron Age and Early Roman subsistence economy was mainly based on cattle and sheep, with pig and horse playing a minor part. During the Roman period, changes in species proportions indicate that sheep became less important after c. AD 100, while horse gained a new economic role. The pie charts show the proportions between the four main domestic species per phase for the two settlements (Figs. 14 and 15). Other domestic species present are dog and chicken. Chicken, a new introduction in the Roman period, seems to have been reserved for funerary ritual. Wild mammals, birds and fish were also present in the assemblages, but only in small numbers.

Figure 14 Figure 15

Figure 14: Animal bone spectrum for cattle, sheep, pig and horse per phase for Tiel-Passewaaijse Hogeweg, based on the number of identified fragments. Illustration Bert Brouwenstijn, ACVU.
Figure 15: Animal bone spectrum for cattle, sheep, pig and horse per phase for Tiel-Oude Tielseweg, based on the numbers of identified fragments. Illustration Bert Brouwenstijn, ACVU.

For the purpose of this study, the animal bones will be discussed from the perspective of a land-use reconstruction. There are several ways in which animal bones can inform us about land use in the past. First, the proportions for the total numbers of fragments for the different domestic species are assumed to reflect the relative importance of animal species. The way the landscape was used to support livestock can differ between species. Second, the age distribution within a species can show whether any age categories are absent. The absence of certain categories, such as juvenile animals, can be explained by birth taking place outside the excavated area, i.e. outside the settlement. This is because a certain amount of juvenile death is expected no matter what the exploitation strategy for a certain species is. Stable areas in houses and outbuildings provide information on the possible size of herds, and also on which animals were stabled and which were not. Phosphate staining, found in both byre sections of farmhouses and separate stables, is believed to stem from manure of stabled animals (Oonk 2006; Heeren 2009, 171). When livestock is stabled, it is inevitable that animal fodder was needed. Even when botanical evidence for fodder is absent, this plant category must be taken into account.

The results from the zooarchaeological analysis for Tiel-Passewaaij form the main source of information on animal husbandry. However, in order to get a more complete picture of animal husbandry in the Dutch River Area, results from studies of several large animal bone assemblages from rural settlements have been used for this article, mainly where these provide additional or different results. Wijk bij Duurstede-De Horden was the first rural settlement to be excavated at a large scale. All recovered bones were analysed and the results published (Laarman 1996b). The most striking point for animal husbandry in Wijk bij Duurstede-De Horden is the focus on horse breeding, which had already begun in the Early Roman period. Excavations at Kesteren-De Woerd only uncovered a small part of the settlement, but have resulted in another important animal bone study (Zeiler 2001). A recent excavation that has yielded a fair amount of data is Geldermalsen-Hondsgemet (Groot 2009). While the results from Geldermalsen-Hondsgemet are largely similar to those for Tiel-Passewaaij, there are some differences.


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Last updated: Tue Nov 10 2009