Animal Bone

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Animal Bone

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The animal bone assemblage totalled 673 assessable specimens (8901g), of which 315 were identified to species. The material was recovered from cut features; other closed contexts – layers and spreads from Trench 1 and 2. It displayed a good level of preservation, with minimal or no surface erosion and weathering. Based on the provenance and the chronology of the material, several sub-sets were created in order to study the assemblage.

The zooarchaeological investigation followed the system implemented by Bournemouth University with all identifiable elements recorded (NISP: Number of Identifiable Specimens) and diagnostic zoning (amended from Dobney & Reilly 1988) used to calculate MNE (Minimum Number of Elements) from which MNI (Minimum Number of Individuals) was derived. Identification of the assemblage was undertaken with the aid of Schmid (1972), Hillson (1999) and reference material from the Cambridge Archaeological Unit, Cambridge. Most, but not all, caprine bones are difficult to identify to species; however, it was possible to identify a limited range of sheep specimens from the assemblage, using the criteria of Boessneck (1969). Unidentifiable fragments were assigned to general size categories where possible. Ageing of the assemblage employed both mandibular tooth wear (Grant 1982; Payne 1973) and fusion of proximal and distal epiphyses (Silver 1969). Sexing using morphological characteristics was only undertaken for pig canines based on their size, shape and root morphology (Schmid 1972: 80-81). The Gallus/ Numida/ Phasianus group of closely related Galliformes are difficult to distinguish and these were only recorded as Galliformes. Other bird identifications will, at this stage, have to remain provisional or left at Family/ Order level pending further specialist analysis. Taphonomic criteria including indications of butchery, pathology, gnawing activity and surface modifications as a result of weathering were also recorded when evident.

Two pits produced the total of 48 bone specimens. The range of species is relatively varied, given the small quantity of faunal material. Pit B/D yielded a small, yet interesting array of domestic and wild species with sheep accounting for 72.8% of the sub-set and giving the MNI count for three individual animals (Table 4). An articulated cat skeleton came from pit B/D aged 4 to 8 months. Butchery was crude, noted on 10 specimens (23.2%) including rabbit and sheep/ goat. The most common actions were performed to prepare for disarticulation or to dismember portions of skeleton.

A further 70 assessable fragments came from two layers: [15] and [16]. Sheep is again the prevalent species, with a limited range of bird species being present (Table 5). A midshaft fragment of a human fibula also came from [15]. One of the unidentified bird specimens could potentially represent a bird of prey; however, this identification will have to be undertaken at later stage.

A range of other ambiguously dated contexts produced the largest sub-set within the assemblage totalling 237 fragments, of which 76 were identified to species (32%). A relatively broad range of bird species was recorded, with a portion of the bird component being identified to species level (provisionally - pending further identifications) and the remainder being assigned to a family or order (Table 6). Of 237 specimens from this sub-set, 133 came from [043] and this is also where the majority of the birds came from. Animal bone material coming from spreads in trench 1 and trench 2 showed a similar range of species, although, it would seem, with a slightly greater emphasis on the livestock component of the assemblage. Butchery was relatively common and it is noteworthy that cut marks were also recorded on bird and rabbit bones, which a testimony to a good preservation.

In conclusion, in 17th and 18th century Jesus College mutton appears to have been regularly eaten, followed by rabbit and a wide array of bird species, both domestic and wild. One butchery action was exceptionally common in this assemblage and that is splitting animal carcass in half by chopping the vertebrae along the dorso-ventral axis. Although present in some prehistoric assemblages, this butchery technique was extremely rare until the 16th century when it becomes increasingly important (Maltby 1979). In general, domestic species appear to have made a major contribution with a number of wild species hinting at remains of ‘high table’ banquets. The assemblage is broadly similar to the Trinity Kitchen’s faunal record (Rajkovača in prep.) in terms of the range of species and comparable butchery techniques. When viewed against other contemporaneous assemblages from the city, it has the potential to offer more distinct answers about socio-economic and dietary practices from Medieval and Post-Medieval Cambridge.

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