6.2.8 Pathology

Eleven fragments showed evidence of pathological abnormalities. A single fragment of cattle cranium (from context 1021) exhibited a perforation in the nuchal region as described and discussed by Brothwell et al. (1996). The remaining pathologies relate to minor dental abnormalities and arthropathies. The presence of abscesses on the buccal side of the tooth rows (leading to the erosion of the surrounding bone) was recorded on one caprovid and three cattle mandibles. Arthropathies were recorded on five cattle fragments and on one horse bone. These included two cattle metapodials which showed signs of splayed distal condyles, and a horse metapodial fragment exhibiting a fused cuboid-navicular bone. Other arthropathies related to the grooving and eburnation of the articular surface of a cattle astragalus and excessive bone growth around the proximal articular surface of two cattle phalanges. The presence of these ‘wear and tear' joint conditions supports the interpretation of cattle being used for traction.

6.2.9 Animal burials

The vertebrate remains from Samples 11 and 12 (context 1094) consisted of a large quantity of burnt caprovid remains. From the excavator's description and the bones themselves, these fragments appear to represent a single individual, although few complete elements remain. The burnt bones were rather fragile and brittle, with the result that much fragmentation has occurred, both in the past and more recently during excavation. Contexts 1119 (hand-collected only) and 1255 (Sample 46) produced smaller amounts of burnt bone, again identified as sheep/goat. Material from 1119 probably represents a single individual, whereas material from 1255 is less conclusive. It has been suggested by the excavator that these deposits were the fills of deliberate animal burials.

Articulated skeletons and limbs of animals have been found at other sites of Iron Age and Roman date, and have, as a result of their deposition or association with other finds, been seen as ritual or special deposits. At Danebury in Hampshire (Grant 1984) there were several examples of these so-called special deposits. Interestingly, the individuals from Brough are completely burnt, which appears to be a rare phenomenon amongst other so-called special deposits.

6.3 The bird bones

In total, eight bird bones were recorded. All except one were identified as domestic fowl (Gallus f. domestic) and are represented by a range of body parts. No direct metrical comparisons have been made but they are of a small size typical of the period. One bone (a carpometacarpus) was recorded as goose (Anser sp.). No cut marks or pathologies were recorded on the bird bones.

Biometrical archive for chicken

6.4 Discussion

There are a number of general points which can be drawn from analysis of the vertebrate remains from Brough. These have significance both for this site, and, more generally, as an example of one of very few assemblages from rural settlements in the area dating from the later Roman period.

The meat diet was clearly based on the consumption of beef, with much smaller quantities of mutton and pork. There was a deliberate selection of adult cattle which were being used as multi-purpose beasts. These data fit into the general pattern of the period, since assemblages of later Roman date are dominated by adult cattle (King 1978, Noddle 1984). The Brough animals seem to have lived to a slightly greater age than those from Lincoln (Dobney et al. 1996a) and York (O'Connor 1988). This may reflect differences between rural and urban locations. The use of cattle for traction is suggested by age-at-death data, and supported by the presence of a number of arthropathies.

The primary butchery and the intensive exploitation of the carcass appears to have taken place on the site, while there is evidence to suggest that some of the larger joints of meat may have been consumed, and the bones deposited, elsewhere. The pattern of butchery and carcass reduction has many similarities with both early and late Roman urban assemblages (Maltby 1989, Dobney et al. 1996a). It is interesting to note that what has been interpreted as large-scale and well-organised processing of cattle carcasses is not restricted to urban sites. This idea is supported by an almost identical pattern of butchery on bones from 4th century deposits at the rural settlement of Wilcote in Oxfordshire (Smith 1996). The presence of scapulae (both cattle and caprovids) with the spina removed might indicate the long-term curing of meat (Dobney et al. 1996a, 27).

From the mandibular tooth wear data, it appears that most caprovids were slaughtered before they were three years old, selection of young adults being typical for the later Roman period (Noddle 1984). The maintenance of animals into early adulthood, to allow two or three wool clips, might indicate the local value of wool.

The relative proportion of the main domesticates (here based on the NISP) clearly fits the developing national pattern. The evidence from Brough is typical of that expected from late Roman civilian/rural sites. This shows a marked difference from two local contemporaneous sites, Lincoln and Filey. These differences are best explained as a reflection of the variation in site function. In this case, the more uniform nature of the assemblage from Brough may be a result of the site's more pedestrian ‘producer' function compared to the large urban ‘consumer' centres of York and Lincoln and the unusual character of Filey (a Roman signal station).

The possibility that the mutton consumed at Brough originated from smaller local livestock raises a number of interesting questions about the inter-dependence of rural and urban settlements.


This small assemblage of vertebrate material has given an indication of the diet and local economy of the late Roman occupation at Brough. It has provided an interesting comparison with the larger urban assemblage from Lincoln, showing both similarities and some differences. These have been interpreted as the result of the inter-play of variations in the regional economy and cultural similarities.


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