Animal Matters

This group is interested in developing integrated and theoretically informed approaches to animal/human relationships during different periods of exploitation. These may relate to artefactual, landscape or other studies, and draw on recent advances in biography, non-human agency and cultural ecology. We would like to develop a series of themes across prehistoric and historic periods, that take a fresh look at the changing relationships that surround animals of many kinds. Of particular interest are the shifting relationships between animals, humans and landscapes within concepts of inhabitation. The representation of animals within culture, including anthropomorphism and zoomorphism, are also key themes. We hope to meet regularly as a discussion group, with an end to the organisation of events and submission of funding applications.

We intend to work closely with colleagues in other disciplines through the Centre for Medieval Studies (CMS), and Centre for Eighteenth-Century Studies (CECS). Both are based at King's Manor, adjacent to the Archaeology Department. Particular interests of members are outlined below.

Staff and Specific Interests

Jon Finch

My interests relate to two broad aspects of animal/human relationships rooted in the development of landscape and habitat. The first is concerned with ‘Huntin’ Shootin’ and Fishin’’. I have published a number of papers on the relationship between foxhunting and the development of English regional landscapes during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as well critically evaluating how those landscapes are characterised today. I am currently establishing a project on the development and management of shooting estates with the Yorkshire Dales ANOB and I am also working on deer-stalking in nineteenth-century Scotland. All of these projects explore the dynamic relationships between animals-environment-humans as well as the representation of animal landscapes in visual and material culture. I am interested in developing these themes on a global scale to explore their impact on colonial life and landscapes. These range from the export of foxhunting (including the introduction of the fox ) across the empire in the nineteenth century, to the boom in big-game hunting in other colonial environments.

The second strand of interest is the role of livestock and other forms of husbandry in the agricultural landscape since the sixteenth century. This relates to the impact of landscape change on historic populations of flora and fauna, such as song-birds, as well as the manipulation of breeds during the era of improvement. Much archaeological attention has been lavished on the landscape changes and crop innovations associated with the ‘agricultural revolution’ but rather less work has been done on the role of animals as transport, livestock, and within the cottage economy. I am currently working on a paper detailing years of excessive hive losses in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and their relationship to weather variations, as an historical parallel with the current crisis in the British bee population.


Steve Ashby

I am concerned with the articulation of human and animal worlds in the Middle Ages, and with the nexus of animal biography and human cultural ecology.

First, I am particularly interested in the ways in which animal resources were exploited and transformed into various consumable media, and the ways in which the biographies of animal, object, and human may become intertwined. Particular interests involve the use of animal bone and antler in the production of tools and personal items, and the various ways in which deer may have been managed and exploited in diverse environments. Given the diverse habitats and ethologies of red deer (C. elaphus), reindeer (Rangifer tarandus), and elk (Alces alces), and the consequently different ways in which their antler was collected and conceptualised, I am interested in the degree to which (and mechanisms by which) objects may have been invested with the ‘animalness’ of their source. I aim to address this question through critical synthesis of zooarchaeological, artefactual, literary, documentary, and art historical data.

Following the work of Mark Edmonds, Richard Bradley, Neil Price and others, I am also interested in the ways in which early medieval people inhabited their environment, and the ways in which their day-to-day rituals were tied up in relationships with objects, animals, and places, as well as people. In this context, an appreciation of the ways in which animals were classified is significant. How did Viking-Age people engage with animals of the land, river, sea and air? Of the forest and the farm? The town and country? Home and ‘overseas’?

Terry O'Connor

My interest in animals begins with their bones, one of the most frequent and abundant ‘finds’ on archaeological sites. At one level, the bones represent the animals, and can give us a great deal of information about their individual and collective biology. At another level, the bones reflect the roles of those animals in the economy and society of the people involved, whether in simple terms of husbandry and agricultural productivity, or as pets and companions to which there was some emotional attachment, or as opportunist vermin that exploited people and their settlements as a convenient source of food and housing. I am particularly concerned to understand the ecological and behavioural relationship between people and those species that actively choose and chose to share our living space. For some of those species, there has been a reciprocal adoption, and we worry when house sparrow numbers decline, whilst for rats and mice we would be only too pleased to see a decline. What is the antiquity of these synanthropic relationships and what is it that makes them successful, both from out point of view and that of the other species? Ultimately, much of the information that we can recover from old animal bones tells us about peoples’ attitudes to other species, but just occasionally they may also tell us something about their attitude to us.

I am interested in anthropogenic impacts on animal populations and how these past human behaviours have affected modern environments. My research uses ancient DNA analysis of archaeological animal bone to reconstruct past ecosystems and to examine how the nature and intensity of human exploitation affects the distribution, abundance and genetic diversity of animal species through time. I am interested in long-term exploitation patterns of coastal resources, particularly those on the Northwest Coast of North America. While marine resources were exploited for millennia by indigenous peoples, relatively recent industrial fishing and whaling practices have eradicated many local fish and marine mammal populations. The first strand of my research uses bimolecular data to understand long-term indigenous subsistence patterns, including traditional native stewardship practices and human responses to ecosystem fluctuations. The second strand of my research uses this ancient ecological data to inform contemporary resource managers and guide current habitat restoration projects.

I am also interested in animal domestication.  For me, the domestication process represents a quintessential model for examining the shifting nature and intensity of human-animal relationships. Using ancient DNA and isotopes analysis, I am interested in uncovering human behaviours such as captive rearing, dietary provisioning, and intensive husbandry or breeding, and examining these behaviours in the context of environmental, cultural and demographic change. 





Ashby, S. P. 2013. Some Comments on the Identification of Cervid Species in Worked Antler. In: O'connor, S. & Choyke, A. M. (eds) From These Bare Bones: Raw materials and the study of worked osseous materials. Oxford: Oxbow. pp.208-222

Ashby, S. P. 2013. The Deer and the Viking. Deer (the Journal of the British Deer Society), 16, 18-21.

Ashby, S. P. 2009. "Combs, contact, and chronology: reconsidering hair combs in Early-historic and Viking-Age Atlantic Scotland." Medieval Archaeology 53: 1-33

Ashby, S. P. and Bolton, A. in press: 'Searching with a fine-toothed comb: combs for humans and horses on the PAS database', In H. Geake, Lewis, M. J. and Worrell, S. (Eds), A Decade of Discovery, Oxford: British Archaeological Reports.

Ashby, S. P. 2005: 'Zooarchaeology, artefacts, trade and identity: the analysis of bone combs from early medieval England and Scotland', In A. Pluskowski (Ed.) Just Skin and Bones? New Perspectives on Human-Animal Relations in the Historical Past, Oxford: British Archaeological Reports, International Series 1410, pp.41-43

Ashby, S. P. 2004: 'Understanding human movement and interaction through the movement of animals and animal products', In M. Mondini, Muñoz, S. and Wickler, S. (Eds), Colonisation, Migration, and Marginal Areas: A Zooarchaeological Approach. Proceedings of the 9th ICAZ Conference, Durham, 2002, Oxford: Oxbow, pp.4-9.

Ashby, S. P. 2002: The role of zooarchaeology in the interpretation of socioeconomic status: a discussion with reference to medieval Europe, Archaeological Review from Cambridge18: 37-59.

Finch, J.C. 2004. 'Grass, grass, grass: hunting and the creation of the modern landscape' Landscapes 5.2: 41-51.

Finch, J.C 2007. 'What more were the pastures of Leicester to me? Hunting, landscape character and the politics of place' International Journal of Cultural Property 14, 361-383.

O’Connor, T.P. 2002. "Medieval Zooarchaeology: What Are We Trying to Do?" Archaeological Review from Cambridge18.

O'Connor, T.P. 2009. "Culture and Environment; mind the gap" Land and People. Papers in memory of John G. Evans. Allen, M.J., Sharples, N. and O’Connor, T.P. (eds), Prehistoric Society Research Paper 2. London: The Prehistoric Society; 11-18

O'Connor, T.P. 2007. "Thinking about beastly bodies", Breaking and shaping beastly bodies. Animals as material culture in the Middle Ages, A. Pluskowski (ed.). Oxford, Oxbow Books, pp. 1-10.

O'Connor, T.P. and Sykes, N. (eds) 2010. Extinctions and Invasions. A social history of British fauna.Oxford, Oxbow Books. ["Introduction - the British fauna in a changing world" pp1-9; "The house mouse" pp127-133; with A.C. Kitchener "Wild, domestic and feral cats" pp83-94].

 O’Connor, T.P. 2010. “ Making Themselves at Home: The Archaeology of Commensal Vertebrates”, Anthropological Approaches to Zooarchaeology. Camapana, D., Crabtree, P., De France, S.D., Lev-Tov, J. and Choyke, A. (eds.), Oxford: Oxbow Books; 270-4

O’Connor, T. 2013. Animals as Neighbors: the past and present of commensal species. MichiganStateUniversity Press.

Speller, C.F. et al. 2010. “Ancient mitochondrial DNA analysis reveals complexity of indigenous North American turkey domestication”. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107: 2807-2812

Speller, C.F. et al. 2012. “High Potential for Using DNA from Ancient Herring Bones to Inform Modern Fisheries Management and Conservation”. PLoS ONE 7(11):e51122

Speller, C. F. et al. 2013. “Ancient mtDNA Analysis of Early 16th Century Caribbean Cattle Provides Insight into Founding Populations of New World Creole Cattle Breeds”. PLoS ONE 8(7):e69584.