One for the master and one for the dame: stable isotope investigations of Iron Age animal husbandry in the Danebury Environs

Abstract

Stevens et al. (Oxford J Archaeol 29: 407–428, 2010) speculated that the extensive faunal intra-population isotopic variability at Danebury hillfort was due to the animals being husbanded within various ecological isozones (i.e. microenvironments with distinct natural or anthropogenic isotopic baselines) within the Danebury Environs, and subsequently brought to the hillfort. We test this hypothesis through isotopic analysis of 357 animals from five sites in the Danebury Environs (Suddern Farm, Nettlebank Copse, Houghton Down, New Buildings, Bury Hill). Our results demonstrate that the hypothesis is incorrect as the Environs animals also exhibited extensive intra-site isotopic variability. The observed patterns require considerable human management of herds and flocks, either through animal droving over long distances, or movement restriction through personal attendance or penning/corralling within a landscape containing a mosaic of isozones. Large-scale importation of animals to the Danebury sites from distant regions that have different isotopic baseline values is possible. However, the practical requirements of this model (i.e. long distance trade networks maintained in terms of frequency, proportion and source of animals over 500 years) make this improbable. Rather, we propose a model that includes distinct ecological isozones within the Danebury Environs landscape, with some animals from each of the sites consuming foodstuff from different isozones for most of their lives. This likely involves control of the landscape on a communal probably kinship basis, with individuals having access to certain parts of the landscape at certain times. The landscape could be seen as being made up of numerous interlocking activity-territories, defined in both space and time, remembered and inherited. Irrespective of which model proves to be the most accurate, these results paint a picture of complex land management during the Iron Age.

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank Kay Ainsworth at Hampshire Museum stores for providing access to the material, records and unpublished information. Peter Ditchfield is thanked for help with mass spectrometry. Jacqui Mulville is thanked for useful discussions. EL would like to thank Darwin College for financial support; RS would like to thank the Royal Society and NERC for financial support.

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Correspondence to Rhiannon E. Stevens.

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Online supplementary dataset 1

Sample provenance, isotope results and atomic C/N ratios. (XLS 91 kb)

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Stevens, R.E., Lightfoot, E., Hamilton, J. et al. One for the master and one for the dame: stable isotope investigations of Iron Age animal husbandry in the Danebury Environs. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 5, 95–109 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-012-0114-3

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Keywords

  • Carbon
  • Nitrogen
  • Bone collagen
  • Animal management
  • Isozones
  • Landscape