Dr. David Orton wins prestigious grant from the British Academy and Leverhulme Trust to research the spread of rats in medieval northern Europe

Posted on 10 October 2017

Zooarchaeological research traces the black rat to help understand the establishment of towns and trade in the medieval period.

Dr. David Orton has been awarded a grant from the British Academy and Leverhulme Trust to research the spread of rats in medieval northern Europe.

A notorious pest and disease vector, the black rat spread around the world in association with humans. Originally from subtropical south Asia, in colder climates it depends on humans for survival and spread, making it a useful marker for urbanism and trade contacts. David's project will use archaeological rat remains from across northern Europe to help understand the establishment of towns and trade in the medieval period.

Rats first colonised northwest Europe with the Romans, reaching York by the 2nd century AD, but apparently became locally extinct following the break-up of the western Roman Empire. They reappear at several Viking Age sites, from York to Sweden, but with only very patchy data available this colonisation process is barely understood. The grant will allow David to fill out the picture, by analysing rodent remains from various northern European countries, including England, the Netherlands, Denmark, Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, and Finland.