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David Orton
Senior Lecturer in Zooarchaeology



David Orton is a zooarchaeologist with interests in a wide range of times, places, and species.

At present his research focuses on medieval fishing and urban fauna, particularly rats,but he also has interests in the Neolithic of the Balkans and Anatolia. He is the Principal Investigator on the 5-year RATTUS project, exploring links between rat populations and European history across 2500 years. He also currently coordinates the SeaChanges ITN, a major international PhD training network bridging archaeology and marine biology.

Following a BA in Archaeology & Anthropology from Cambridge, David took the MSc in Zooarchaeology at York — a programme he now directs — before returning to Cambridge for his PhD. His thesis, completed in 2008, focused on the links between herding practices and the gradual development of large, settled communities in the central Balkan Neolithic.

Since then he has worked as a researcher on a number of projects, ranging from Halaf-period zooarchaeology in south-east Turkey, through Neolithic research in the former Yugoslavia, to (post)medieval fish trade in north-west Europe. David became a Teaching Fellow in Zooarchaeology at UCL in 2013, before taking up the position of Lecturer in Zooarchaeology at York in early 2015.

Departmental roles



Based primarily around zooarchaeology, David's research is very broad in terms of geographical regions and time periods. Whether working on the emergence of settled communities in the Balkan Neolithic or the provisioning of urban settlements in medieval Europe, however, a running theme in his work is the long-term co-development of human communities and their resource bases.

David's original background is in prehistory, specifically the Neolithic, with a PhD focusing on Serbian faunal material and considerable experience working in the field and/or on museum collections in most of the former Yugoslav republics. In this context he is interested in the relationships between herding practices, wild resource use, and the development of large village communities into the late Neolithic — not to mention their subsequent disappearance in the early Copper Age. He has also worked at the UNESCO world heritage site of Çatalhöyük, Turkey, for over a decade, analysing animal remains and co-ordinating radiocarbon dating from the Chalcolithic West Mound as well as contributing to faunal publications from the famous Neolithic East Mound.

In recent years David has taken a particular interest in fish bones as a source both for economic history and for historical ecology. Apart from drawing him into ever more recent periods, this has also prompted an interest in the potential of the zooarchaeological record to inform contemporary biodiversity conservation and management efforts.

Methodologically, David is currently very interested firstly in integrating conventional zooarchaeology with biomolecular methods — for which reason he is very happy to be part of BioArCh — and secondly in pushing the boundaries of (zoo)archaeological data synthesis and meta-analysis. How can we unlock the vast amount of environmental data currently locked up in obscure publications and grey literature — particularly from urban settlements — and bring it to bear on key questions in archaeology, environmental history, and biogeography? Is it possible to move beyond the relative importance of different species, to start to estimate changes in the absolute scale of their exploitation?

Key research interests
  • The Neolithic and early Chalcolithic of the Balkans and Anatolia
  • Medieval/post-medieval fisheries and fish trade
  • Urban provisioning
  • Commensal fauna in archaeology
  • Large-scale meta-analysis and data synthesis in archaeology
  • Integration of zooarchaeological and biomolecular data
  • Environmental archaeology, historical ecology, and conservation
  • Theoretical approaches to human-animal interactions in prehistory
  • Zooarchaeological methodology


  • RATTUS: Rats and the Archaeology of Trade, Urbanism, and Disease in Past European Societies (PI; UKRI Frontier Research Guarantee)
  • SeaChanges: thresholds in human exploitation of marine vertebreates (co-ordinator; Marie Sklodowska-Curie international training network)

Available PhD research projects

David is keen to supervise PhD projects linked to any of the above interests, particularly:

  • the archaeology of rats, mice, and other commensal fauna
  • urban zooarchaeology
  • the Neolithic Balkans
  • fishing and fish trade
  • meta-analytic research with a biogeographic angle.



Second year

  • Practical skills: Animal bones
  • Team project: Animal bones
  • (Neolithic)

Third year

  • Assessed seminar: Animals and archaeology


MSc in Zooarchaeology:

  • Zooarchaeology 1: Identifying Animal Bones
  • Interpreting Animal Remains
  • Zooarchaeology 2: Exploring the Assemblage

MA/MSc essential research skills (classes on data management and quantitative methods)

External activities


Editorial duties

  • Assistant reviews editor, European Journal of Archaeology

Invited talks and conferences

  • Nov 2014: Diet Group meeting, OxfordStories from the City, stories from the sea: tracing the development of London’s fish supplies using archaeological bones
  • Oct 2014: George Pitt-Rivers Laboratory Seminar. Catch-per-unit-research-effort: calibrating London's zooarchaeological record for research intensity
  • May 2014: Department of Continuing Education, Oxford. Stable isotopes and fish bones.
  • May 2014: Archaeology Department, Zagreb. Food, diet, and culture in Neolithic studies.
  • June 2013: Towards the reconstruction of paleoenvironment of Vinča-Belo Brdo, Belgrade. Settlement zooarchaeology and use of wild animals in the Vinča period.
  • April 2013: Human Development in Landscapes International Workshop, Kiel. Synthesis of caprine fusion data from Central/Western Anatolian Neolithic sites.
  • Nov 2012: Conservation Science Group, Cambridge. Ancient bones, current issues: marine bioarchaeology as historical ecology.
  • Sep 2011: European Association of Archaeologists Annual Meeting, Oslo. Trading, crusading, and the origin of the modern Eastern Baltic cod fishery.
  • Sep 2010: European Association of Archaeologists Annual Meeting, the Hague. Bringing diverse data to bear on past perceptions of animals.
  • May 2010: Topoi Seminar, Free University, Berlin. From mobile people to mobile herds: innovations in animal use and settlement in the Balkan Neolithic.
  • Mar 2010: Archaeology Department Seminar, Belgrade. Zooarchaeology and settlement histories in the central Balkan Neolithic.
  • Mar 2010: Public Lecture, Museum of the Republika Srpska, Banja Luka. From animal bones to human culture: zooarchaeology of the Vinča group.
  • Mar 2009: Paleobiology Lecture Series, Anthropology Department, Stony Brook, NY. Taphonomy and interpretation: an analytical framework for social zooarchaeology.
  • Dec 2008: Institute for European and Mediterranean Archaeology, Buffalo, NY. Linking animal use and social change in the central Balkan Neolithic.

Media coverage

Media interest in Hutchinson et al. 2015 'The Globalization of Naval Provisioning', Royal Society Open Science:
Media interest in Orton et al. 2014 'Fish for the City', Antiquity:

Contact details

Dr David Orton
Senior Lecturer in Zooarchaeology
University of York
Wentworth Way
YO10 5DD

Tel: 01904 32 8619