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From Aug 2006 - Nov 2013 WeDig provided a live forum for diggers & fans of Vindolanda. It has now been mothballed and will be maintained as a live archive.

Here you will find preserved 7 years of conversation, photos, & knowledge about a site many people love. Vindolanda gets under the skin. (Figuratively and literally as a volunteer excavator!) It's a place you remember, filled with people you remember!

Thanks for 7 great years!

Animal Bones at Vindolanda

Almost anyone who has dug at Vindolanda has come across at least a fragment of the remains of an animal: a tooth, a jaw or rib, perhaps even an entire skull. Since 2002, Dr. Deb Bennett, Director of the Equine Studies Institute of California, has traveled to Vindolanda each summer to examine, catalog, and study the bones that volunteers have reclaimed from the soil. Those who have purchased recent Vindolanda excavation reports will no doubt be familiar with her work! She has written two accounts of Vindolanda, available in PDF format and downloadable at the Equine Studies Institute's Web site. The first is an overview of Vindolanda as a whole, together with some fascinating insights into, as she calls it, "Stories Told by Bones." The second PDF is entitled "Equine CSI in an Ancient Roman Fort." Both are a great introduction for the interested digger to the world of zooarchaeology -- the study of animal bones at sites of human occupation.

Dr. Bennett has very generously compiled an annotated reading list for WeDig'ers who would like to learn more:

by Deb Bennett, Ph.D.

Before you begin -- here is the Vindolanda animal species list as published to date, so you'll know which animals to look for as part of studies that focus specifically on Vindolanda. In the next few years, I expect to add to this list, particularly in terms of small birds and mammals. But the currently-published fauna will be plenty to get the interested student started!

Horse -- Equus caballus
Ass -- Equus asinus
Mule -- Equus caballus X Equus asinus
Cattle -- Bos taurus
Pig -- Sus scrofa
Sheep -- Ovis ammon
Goat -- Capra hircus
Red Deer(the same species that is called 'Elk' in North America) -- Cervus elaphus
Roe Deer -- Capreolus capreolus
Dog -- Canis familiaris
Fox -- Vulpes fulvus
Cat -- Felis sylvestris
European badger -- Meles meles
Marten -- Martes sp. (large)
Hare -- Lepus capensis

Domestic chicken -- Gallus gallus
Black Grouse -- Tetrao tetrix
Common Crane -- Grus grus
Golden Plover -- Pluvialis apricaria
Whooper Swan -- Cygnus cygnus
Barnacle Goose -- Branta cf. leucopsis
Mallard Duck -- Anas platyrhynchos
Shelduck -- Tadorna tadorna
Raven -- Corvus corax
Carrion Crow -- Corvus cf. corone

Alcock, Joan P. 2001. Food in Roman Britain. Tempus Publishing, Gloucestershire. 192 pp. I have found this volume to be extremely useful in visualizing the Roman diet, Roman methods of slaughter, and why they valued each particular food species; most of the species we have from Vindolanda are "edible" animals. Alcock's bibliography is stuffed with great references too, for anyone who wants to get into the "back literature."

Bennett, Deb. 2005. Bone from the Severan Ditch, Area A, in Birley, Andrew and Justin Blake, eds., "Vindolanda Research Reports: The Excavations of 2003-2004", The Vindolanda Trust, Hexham, Northumberland, U.K., pp. 115-186. I would encourage all our volunteers to obtain copies of this paper from the Trust/Vindolanda website. Robin Birley and I planned this contribution as an 'index to Vindolanda bones' -- it is a long paper, stuffed with good photographs of the marvellously-preserved Severan bone, and the text makes an overt attempt to teach. If you want a "Vindolanda bone-digger's guide", this is as close as we currently have.

Bennett, Deb. 2007. Bird Remains from Roman Vindolanda, in Birley, Andrew and Justin Blake, eds., "Vindolanda Research Reports: The Excavations of 2005-2006", The Vindolanda Trust, Hexham, Northumberland, U.K., pp. 163-199. I've been culling out bird bones since my first year on site, and this paper was the first result of my attempt to get them all together. This paper also is stuffed with photos, and makes a good companion to the Severan Ditch bone report.

Clutton-Brock, Juliet. 1981. Domesticated Animals from Early Times. Univ. Texas Press, Austin (Trustees of the British Museum), 208 pp. A wonderful, readable overview of a very wide array of animals that have been brought into domestication at various times and by various cultures. Stuffed with great photos and drawings. Clutton-Brock is the dean of U.K. zooarchaeologists, always reliable -- great general information source.

Gilbert, B. Miles. 1990. Mammalian Osteology. Missouri Archaeological Society, Columbia, Missouri. 427 pp. This and Gilbert's companion volume "Avian Osteology" are intended to help identify bones from archaeological sites. They are pictorial atlases showing numerous bones of many species. The volumes cover only North American species but they are still useful to look at for the student who wants to gain a general familiarity with bones; you can certainly learn to tell bison bones from badgers here.

Hambleton, Ellen. 2004. Report on the Remains of a Dog (sf 8659) from Vindolanda, in Andrew Birley, et al., eds., "Vindolanda Research Report 2003: The Excavations of 2001-2002, Vol. I," pp. 250-256. This is the report on the nearly-complete dog skeleton that we have on exhibit at the Vindolanda Museum.

Hodgson, G.W.I. 1976. The Animals of Vindolanda. Barcombe Publications, Town Hall Crescent House, Haltwhistle, Northumberland, 29 pp. I believe the gift shop/Vindolanda website still has this little booklet for sale. Hodgson was the first zooarchaeologist to work on Vindolanda remains, and his contributions remain important.

Rackham, James. 1994. Animal Bones: Interpreting the Past. Trustees of the British Museum, British Museum Publications, 64 pp. By yet another zooarchaeologist, here you get drawings and photos of bones plus some insight into the real priorities and directions in research. This book answers not only "what bones look like" but also "why we care about them."

Schmid, Elisabeth. 1972. Atlas of Animal Bones: For Prehistorians, Archaeologists and Quaternary Geologists. Elsevier Publishing Co., New York/London, 155 pp. This is a detailed atlas highly valued among zooarchaeologists and vertebrate paleontologists. Unfortunately, it is out of print! Copies can, however, be found in University libraries....if you come across one, the interested student can certainly take the opportunity to photocopy those portions that look most useful.

Silver, I. 1969. The Ageing of Domestic Animals, in Don Brothwell and Elmer Higgs, eds., "Science in Archaeology". Thames and Hudson Publishing, Bristol, pp. 283-302. This is an important summary of what is known about 'epiphyseal fusion' and times of tooth eruption, which are the physical characteristics by which we can tell the age at which an animal died or was slaughtered. The whole 'Science in Archaeology' volume is important, in fact, and the interested student will likely find other papers in it as well that they want to read.

Simpson, George Gaylord. 1951. Horses: The Story of the Horse Family in the Modern World and Through Sixty Million Years of History. Oxford University Press, New York, 247 pp. For the horse lovers among you....this is the classic work on horse evolution, with many photos and drawings. The author was the leading vertebrate paleontologist of the 1950's. Although there is a newer book (by Bruce MacFadden) dealing with horse evolution, this is a much more readable work and is still the best starting-point.

Sisson, Septimus and Daniel Grossman. Editions from 1903-1947. The Anatomy of the Domestic Animals. W.B. Saunders & Co., Philadephia/London, about 450 pp. This is the textbook on which I cut my paleontological teeth....it contains exquisitely detailed electrostat engravings of the bones of most of the domestic species, i.e. cow, sheep, goat, dog, pig. It has recently been revised into two volumes under the editorship of Getty (so the reference for the new version is "Getty's Sisson and Grossmann's 'Anatomy of the Domestic Animals'"), but I would recommend that if anyone wants to buy this book they get the original, one-volume work through a used-book dealer, and expect to pay about $100 bucks for a copy in reasonably decent shape.

The original editions were produced in an era before modern copyright laws, so all those exquisite plates were actually "lifted" from a still earlier work, Ellenberger, Baum & Dittrich's "Anatomie fur Kunstlers" ("Anatomy for Artists"). If all you want is to study the plates, you can buy a reprint of the EBD version through Arco Reprints/Arco Books. Since they are out of copyright, you can also download a complete set of scans of the original EBD plates by clicking on the following link (be sure to set the "zoom" option to "largest" before you download): http://digicoll.library.wisc.edu/Science/subcollections/VetAnatImgsAbout.html

I hope this will be of some help & provide enjoyment and food for thought for all our volunteers -- 'til the next time we meet at Vindolanda.

Page authored by Deb Bennett, Ph.D.
Director, Equine Studies Institute of California