Wild animal exploitation in Medieval England
Naomi Sykes (Nottingham)
In any farming society, hunting is a form of social intercourse through which identity (be it ethnic-, religious-, gender- or status-based) is negotiated. This long-term project is integrating animal bone data, historical and iconographic evidence, and landscape studies to explore how hunting, wildfowling and the distribution and consumption of game were incorporated into expressions and perceptions of medieval identity.
Through zooarchaeological analysis it has become clear that, in Britain, the Normans were responsible for the creation of an aristocratic hunting culture that saw the introduction of elaborate new hunting rituals, in particular the 'unmaking' whereby deer were butchered at the kill-spot in a ceremonial and precise fashion. According to documentary evidence the 'unmaking' saw different parts of the deer carcass gifted to particular individuals: the lord receiving the haunches, one shoulder going to the forester or parker and the other to the best huntsman, whilst the pelvis was left at the kill-site as an offering to the crow. The practicalities of these texts has long been debated but zooarchaeological analysis has demonstrated their validity: deer remains found on sites of different types conform exactly to the unmaking method s described in the texts.
Assemblages from elite sites are dominated by bones from the hind limb evidence that the lords received their haunches of venison
Assemblages from the Anglo-Saxon period show no such patterns, indicating these rituals were not present in England before the Norman Conquest
Assemblages from parkers and foresters residences are dominated by bones from the fore-limb, workers were clearly paid in venison
Whilst the Normans introduced new hunting rituals, this is not to suggest that hunting was unimportant before 1066 and this project is considering the role of wild animal exploitation in pre-conquest society. One assemblage currently under investigation is that from the Late Saxon site of Bishopstone in Sussex: this material has yielded considerable wild animal remains including several whale specimens.
Images: Some of the butchered whale bones from the Late Saxon settlement at Bishopstone. Is this evidence for whale hunting in medieval England?
Sykes, N. J. 2005. The dynamics of status symbols: wildfowl exploitation in England AD 410-1550, Archaeological Journal 161, 82-105.
Sykes, N. J. 2005 'Hunting for the Normans: zooarchaeological evidence for medieval identity', in A. Pluskowski (ed.) Just Skin and Bones? New Perspectives on Human-Animal Relations in the Historic Past, BAR, British Series, Oxford: BAR.
Sykes, N. J. 2005 'The impact of the Normans on hunting practices in England', in C. Woolgar, D. Serjeantson and T. Waldron (eds.) Food in Medieval England: History and Archaeology, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Sykes, N. J. 2007. The Norman impact on wild resource exploitation, pp. 56-69 in The Norman Conquest: A Zooarchaeological Perspective (BAR International Series 1656) Oxford: Archaeopress.
Sykes, N. J. 2007. Deer hunting: methods and rituals, pp. 70-75 in The Norman Conquest: A Zooarchaeological Perspective (BAR International Series 1656) Oxford: Archaeopress.
Sykes, N. J., 2007. Animal bones and animal parks, inR. Liddiard (ed.) The Medieval Park: new perspectives.Windgather Press: Macclesfield.
Sykes, N. J. 2007 'Taking sides: the social life of venison in medieval England' in A. Pluskowski (ed.) Breaking and Shaping Beastly Bodies: Animals as Material Culture in the Middle Ages Oxford: Oxbow
Sykes , N. J. in prep. 'Woods and the wild' in Hamerow, H. and Hinton, D. (eds) Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Archaeology, Oxford University Press: Oxford