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Sheep and Swine in the Husbandry of Prehistoric Europe*

  • Grahame Clark

Since the classic work of Rütimeyer (1) and others on the fauna of the Swiss lake villages was first undertaken nearly a century ago, a vast amount of information has been assembled about the livestock of the prehistoric farmers of north-western and central Europe. Interest at first centred on distinguishing breeds of the various species in the hope of defining the routes by which farming spread from its early homelands into the European continent. In recent years more attention has been paid to the light which can be thrown on the economy of prehistoric communities through a study of their livestock : among the chief points which it has been sought to establish are the age at which various species were normally slaughtered, the relative proportions of wild and domestic forms and the proportions in which the different species of livestock were maintained by the people under investigation.

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* I am indebted to Dr H. Godwin, Prof. V. G. Childe and Dr C. Elton, for having read this paper in typescript. While concurring with its general thesis, they have offered valuable criticism on various points.

1 L. Riitimeyer, Die Fauna der Pfahlbauten der Schweiz. Zurich, 1862.

2 Sussex Arch. Coll., LXXII, 148–9.

3 Neolithic: Cattle were the chief source of meat at Whitehawk Camp, Brighton, swine were second and sheep and goats comparatively uncommon (Sussex Arch. Coll., LXXI, 82). Although detailed evidence has yet to be published for Windmill Hill, nr. Avebury, Prof. Watson states that the same applied to this site (ibid). Dr Wilfrid Jackson found ‘little to be said’ about remains of sheep from the Neolithic locations at Maiden Castle, Dorset, ‘except to remark on their scarcity’ (Maiden Castle Report, 364).

Similar evidence is forthcoming from sacred sites of the ‘henge’ class. Only a few traces of sheep occurred at Woodhenge (M. E, Cunnington, Woodhenge, 69) and none at all from the West Kennet Avenue, Avebury (Antiquity, 1936, 11) or the Sanctuary on Overton Hill (Wilts. Arch. Mag., XLV, 330–1).

Early Iron Age: Remains of sheep occur in substantially larger, those of pig in smaller proportions: at All Cannings Cross, Wilts., sheep ranked next to ox and remains of pig were ‘not very(numerous’ (M. E. Cunnington, All Cannings Cross, 43–50); similar results were obtained at Fifield Bavant and Swallowcliffe Down in the same county (Wilts. Arch. Mag., XLII, 492–3; XLiii, 190–3) and at Meon Hill and Quarley Hill in Hampshire (Proc. Hants. F.C. and A.S., XII, pt. 2, 156–7). Identifications were made by Dr Wilfred Jackson whose work in this field has been indefatigable.

4 Occurrences of the various species are shown as percentages of the total number of identifiable specimens from each site.

5 Excavations in Bokerly and Wansdyke, Dorset and Wilts., III, 233.

6 Excavations on Cranbourne Chase, IV, 39–41, 134–5, 208–14.

7 Similar enclosures at Ogbourne West and on Boscombe Down, Wilts., have yielded further evidence for a great predominance of cattle, reflecting no doubt their function, a number of sheep, but no swine (Proc. Prehist. Soc., 1942, 54–9; Wilts. Arch. Mag., XLVII, 484–6).

8 e.g., At Thorney Down, “Wilts., sheep were represented by limb bones, teeth, jaws and part of a horn-core, pig by a single tooth only (Wilts. Arch. Mag., XLVII, 659). At Minnis Bay, Kent, ox and sheep were each represented by three jaw bones and other remains, but pig was absent (Proc. Prehist. Soc. 1943, 41 f.). The proportions between sheep and pig were more evenly balanced at Mildenhall Fen, but here local conditions were of rather a special character (Ant. J., XVI, 33–4).

9 L. Reverdin, ‘La faune néolithique de la station de St.-Aubin (Port-Conty, lac de Neuchâtel)’, Archives suisses de l’Anthropologie générale, t. IV, 1920–2, 251–4. Material from a second campaign (L. Reverdin, ‘Sur la faune du néolithique ancien et moyen des stations lacustres’, ibid., t. v, 1928–31, 41–6) showed a higher proportion of sheep and goats, which, however, were not separated; if, the ratio between the two was constant, the figures for sheep from the early and middle levels respectively from both campaigns at Port-Conty come to c. 5.7 and 8.9 per cent, as against 42.9 and 41.7 per cent for oxen and 21.7 and 36.7 per cent for swine.

10 K. Hescheler, ‘Beitrage zur kenntnis der Pfahlbaufauna des Neolithikums (Die Fauna der Pfahlbauten im Wauwylersee)’, Vierteljahrs. Naturf. Ges. Zürich, Jhg., LXV, 1920, 248–322.

11 H. Reinerth, Die jüngere Steinzeit der Schweiz. Augsburg, 1926, s. 41–2.

12 K. Hescheler and J. Rueger have published results from the Luzern area, which at first sight appear anomalous, in their ‘Die Wirbeltierreste aus dem neolithischen Pfahlbaudorf Egolzwil 2 (Wauwilersee) nach den grabungen von 1932 bis 1934’, Vierteljahrsschrift d. Naturf. Ges. Zürich, jhg. 84, 1939, 307–30. Out of at least 355 domesticated animals 142 were oxen, 95 pig and as many as 86 or 24 per cent sheep and goats, the remaining 32 comprising dog. On the other hand, wild animals outnumbered domesticated ones by nearly two to one and the species were exclusively forest forms, not a single horse or hare being represented among 692 individuals. Again, it is notable, in view of the lack of clear demarcation between wild and domesticated forms in early times, that 65 wild oxen and 68 wild pig were represented. It will be seen that sheep and goats together comprise only a slight element in the fauna as a whole.

13 E. Kuhn, ‘Beitrage zur Kenntnis der Saugetierfauna der Schweiz seit dem Neolithikum’, Rev. suisse de zoologie, t. 39, 1932, no. 18, 531–768.

14 E, Kuhn, ‘Die Fauna des Pfahlbaues Obermeilen am Zürichsee’, Vierteljahresschrift Naturf. Ges. in Zurich, LXXX, 1935, 241–330.

15 Th. Studer, ‘Die Thierwelt in den Pfahlbauten des Bieiersee’s’, Mitth. der Naturf. Ges. in Bern, II h., Abh. 17–115. 1883. s.113–4.

16 K. Hescheler, ‘Die Tierwelt der schweizerischen Pfahlbauten’, Pfahlbauten Zehnter Bericht, 1924,98–108. s.105. Out of a total of 5432 specimens, 10 per cent related to wild animals 29 per cent belonged to oxen, 23 per cent to domesticated pig, 30 per cent to sheep and goat, 4 per cent to horse and 5 per cent to dog.

17 O. Menghin, Weltgeschichte der Steinzeit, 274. Vienna, 1931.

18 A. P. Madsen et al., Affaldsdynger fra Stenãlderen i Danmark, 145–6, 158–61, 172. Copenhagen, 1900.

19 J.Nihlén, Gotlands Stenàldersboplatser, 192. Stockholm, 1927.

20 20 ibid.

21 M. Stenberger et al., Das Grabfeld von Västerbjers auf Gotland, 107. Stockholm, 1943.

22 A. Pira, ‘Studien zur Geschichte der Schweinerassen, insbesondere derjenigen Schwedens’, Zoologische Jahrbücher, Suppl. 10, 233–426. Jena, 1909.

23 J. E. Forssander, Lunds univ. hist. mus. Lund, 1941, 148.

24 T. Mathiassen, ‘Havnelev-Strandegaarde’, Aarböger, 1940, 17.

25 J. Winther, Troldebjerg, 46. Rudköbing, 1935; Blandebjerg, 25. Rudköbing, 1943; Lindö, 38 and 48. Rudköbing, 1928.

26 T. Mathiassen et al., ‘ Bundsö’, Aarb’ôger, 1939, 143.

27 H. Winge, ‘Dyreknogler fra Bronzealders Bopladser’, Aarböger, 1919, 93–101.

28 It is a pity that no details are available about the number of upper jaws of sheep; the number of lower jaws is only one less than half the total number of pig jaws.

29 Aarböger, 1906, 219–20.

30 G. Hatt, ‘Jernalders Bopladser i Himmerland’, Aarböger, 1938, 119–266, p. 152.

31 ibid, 237.

32 32 ibid, 254.

33 Aarböger, 1900, 166–182.

34 J. U. Duerst, ‘Die Tierwelt der Ansiedelungen am Schlossberg zu Burg an der Spree’, Arch. f. Anthr.N.F. II, 1904.

35 e.g. Strabo (5.1.12) noted that Rome was largely supplied with pork raised on the acorns of the forest of Cisalpine Gaul.

36 J. H. Round first used this method for parts of north-west Essex, by comparing the numbers of swine maintained in the woods between 1066 and 1086 (V. C. H. Essex, 1, 333, 1903). More recently, Dr H. C. Darby has made similar calculations for the counties of Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk (ANTIQUITY, 1934, 211–5).

37 A. W. Brögger, ‘From the Stone Age to the Motor Age’, ANTIQUITY, 1940, 163–81: see p. 172. cf. E. E. Evans, Irish Heritage. Dundalk, 1942, 95–8.

38 Thus Varro wrote that ‘cattle are best pastured in clearings where there are shrubs and leaves in abundance’ (Rerum rusticarum, bk. 11, cap. V, 11) and Columella specified the best kinds for feeding to cattle in summer, namely elm, ash and poplar (De re rustica, VI, 3, 6).

39 A. W. Brögger, op. cit., 1940, pl. 1.

40 A. Sandklef, ‘Are Scandinavian flint saws to be considered as leaf knives?’ Acta Arch., V, 1934, 284–90; A. Steensberg, Ancient Harvesting Implements. Copenhagen, 1943, pp. 179 f.

41 Strabo, 4.5.2.

42 R. Lydekker, The Sheep and its cousins. London, 1912, pp. 27 and 43.

43 See Granarne Clark, ‘Farmers and Forests in Neolithic Europe’, ANTIQUITY, 1945, 57–71, for further references.

44 A. Pira, op. cit. It may be added, also, that until mediaeval times ‘domesticated’ swine were kept in the forest, where as Marc Bloch has stated {Les Caractères originaux de l’histoire rurale française. Oslo, 1931, p. 7) they existed ‘presque à l’état de nature’.

45 A broken shin-bone was noted from Moosseedorf and traces of single individuals were found at Port-Conty, St. Aubin (levels III, IV) and at Wauwyl.

46 L. Riitimeyer, op. cit., 1862, 24.

47 K. Hescheler, ‘Die Fauna der neolithischen Pfahlbauten der Schweiz und des deutschen Bodenseegebietes nach neueren Forschungen’, Vierteljahrsschrift d. Naturf. Ges. Zurich, Jhg. 78, 1933, 198–231. s. 209, 228.

48 De Bello Gallico, V, 12, para. 6.

49 Madsen et al., op. cit., 1900, 181–2.

50 M. Degerböl, ‘Danmarks Pattedyr i Fortiden i Sammenligning med recente Former’, Vidensk. Medd.fra Dansk. naturh.Foren., bd., 95, 1933, 357–641.

51 The only find from mesolithic Denmark comprises one bone from MuUerup, Zealand (G. F. L. Sarauw, ‘En Stenalders Boplads i Maglemose ved Mullerup’, Aarböger, 1903, 148–315).

52 A few bones occurred in the midden at Lejre Aa (Madsen et al, 1900, 171; M. Degerböl, 1933, op. cit., 388) and a single one at Lindo (Winther, op. cit., 1928, 47).

53 e.g. Wauwyl (Hescheler, op. cit., 1920, 292) and Obermeilen (Kuhn, op. cit., 1935, 256–9,

54 e.g. by Hescheler and Kuhn (op. cit.) and by P. Vouga, ‘Le néolithique lacustre ancien’, Recenti de travaux publiés par le Faculté des lettres, Univ. de Neuchatel, 1934, fase. 17, p. 58.

55 Only one tooth from Vinde-Helsinge in Aamosen, Zealand (T. Mathiassen et al., Stenalderbopladser i Aamosen. Copenhagen, 1943, pp. 165–7) and Part of a femur from the lowest level at Kolind, Jutland (T. Mathiassen et al., Dryholmen. En Stenalderboplads paa Djursland. Copenhagen, 1942, pp. 123, 127–8) can be set against the absence of any trace from the Maglemose bog sites and from the Ertebölle middens.

56 e.g. O. G. S. Crawford, The Long Barrows of the Cotswolds. Gloucester, 1925, p. 26.

57 V. G. Childe, Skara Brae, a Pictish village in Orkney, London, 1931, p. 204.

58 Proc. Soc. Ant. Scot., LXXIII, 22.

59 ibid, LXVIII, 349.

60 Rev. anthropologique, XXXVI, 1926, 206–11.

61 Based on Kuhn, op. cit., 1932. 61a In V. G. Childe, op. cit., 203.

62 T. E. Buckley and J. A. Harvie-Brown, A vertebrate fauna of the Orkney Islands. Edinburgh, 1891, p. 89.

63 T. E. Buckley and J. A. Harvie-Brown, A vertebrate fauna of the Outer Hebrides. Edinburgh, 1888, p. 42.

64 Graharne Clark, ‘Forest Clearance and Prehistoric Farming’, Economic History Review, XVII, no. 1, p. 45 f.

65 Lord Ernle, English Farming Past and Present, 1917 edtn., p. 27.

66 e.g. Homer’s description (Odyssey, IX, 217–49) of how Polyphemus the Cyclops used to manage his flock of sheep and goats, the ewes being brought to the cave for milking.

67 H. J. Elwes (‘Notes on the primitive breeds of sheep in Scotland’, The Scottish Naturalist, 1912,17, 25–32 and 49–52) wrote that all the Soay sheep ‘know of man is that once or twice a year at most they are hunted down with dogs, and the little wool they have is pulled from their backs. For the rest of the year they are as wild as the sea-birds which constantly surround them’.

68 The percentages are expressed as proportions of the total number of specimens identified (3426).

69 V. G. Childe, Prehistoric Communities of the British Isles. London, 1940, p. 241.

70 E. Vogt, Geflechte und Gewebe der Steinzeit. Basel, 1937. s. 45–6.

71 An impression of a flax seed has been identified on a sherd from Drenthe prov. of a type found in the megalithic tombs of N. Hollard (K. Jessen and H. Helbaek Cereals in Great Britain and Ireland in Prehistoric and Early Historic Times. Copenhagen, 1944, p. 57).

72 The use of nettle fibres for weaving is a feature of the folk culture of the Scandinavian and Finno-Ougrian peoples and in the former area goes back at least to the Bronze Age, and in all probability to the Stone Age. The best reference is Margrethe Hald’s ‘The Nettle as a culture plant’, Folk-Liv, 1942, 28–49, which carries a valuable bibliography.

73 For net-making bast was used as early as Mesolithic times in the Baltic area (S. Pälsi, ‘Ein steinzeitlicher Moorfund bei Korpilahti im Kirchspiel Antrea, Lan Wiborg’, Finska Form. Tidskr. XXVIII, no. 2. Helsingfors, 1920). A well-known Neolithic find from Denmark is the piece of net from Ordrup Mose, near Copenhagen (H. C. Broholm and M. Hald, Skrydstrupfundet. Copenhagen, 1939, p. 54 and fig. 40).

74 Finds of charred textiles, and impressions of textile on the verdigris of bronzes, have been recorded fairly commonly in the literature of barrow excavation from the pre-scientific era. Where determinations have been made, these have been subjective and little reliance can be placed on them. Reference may, however, be made to a charred piece of what appeared to be wool fabric from among the ashes in an overhanging rim urn from Banniside Moor, Coniston (Cumb. and Westm. Arch, and Ant. Soc., 1910, p. 350).

75 The great mass of Danish prehistoric woollen textiles belong to the Great Period of the Northern Bronze Age (1300–1000) and come from the well-known oak coffin burials. The earliest indication from Denmark is the impression of woollen textile in the verdigris of a socketed spearhead from a burial at Stubdrup, Öster Brönderslev, Vendsyssel, dating from the local Early Bronze Age (1500–1300) (H. C. Broholm, Aarböger, 1938, 81).

76 A piece of decorated woollen textile was found wrapped round the wooden handle of a winged axe in the roof of the gallery of a salt-mine at Durrnberg, near Hallein, dating from the Late Bronze or Early Iron Age (O. Klose, ‘Ein buntes Gewebe aus dem prahistorischen Salzbergwerke auf dem Durrnberge bei Hallein’, Mitt. d. anthrop. Ges. in Wien, LVI, 346–50. Vienna, 1926).

77 B. Gram, ‘Undersogelser af archaeologisk materiale udförte i Prof. Steins laboratorium’, Aarböger, 1891, 97–123. Copenhagen.

78 A. Geijer and H. Ljungh, ‘Die Kleider der Dãnischen Bronzezeit’, Acta Arch., viu, 266–75. Copenhagen, 1937. Also, A. Steensberg in Broholm and Hald, op. cit. 1939, 137–42.

79 T. Thomsen, ‘Vaevede stoffer fra Jernalderen’, Aarböger, 1900, 257–278.

80 A. Bulleid and H. St. G. Gray, The Glastonbury Lake Village. Glastonbury, 1911, p. 658.

81 E. Vogt, op. cit., 44–5.

82 Wilts. Arch. Mag., XLVI, 240.

83 Ant.J., XIV, 130.

84 Sussex Arch. Soc. Coll., 1936, 91.

85 Wilts. Arch. Mag., XLVII, 484–6.

86 ibid, 659.

87 Hants. F. C. and Arch. Soc, XII, pt. 2, 157–8.

88 ibid, XIV, pt. 2, 192.

I am indebted to Dr H. Godwin, Prof. V. G. Childe and Dr C. Elton, for having read this paper in typescript. While concurring with its general thesis, they have offered valuable criticism on various points.

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