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Mobility and management of cattle in Iron Age and Roman Netherlands

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - MoMa (Mobility and management of cattle in Iron Age and Roman Netherlands)

Periodo di rendicontazione: 2018-03-01 al 2020-02-29

The project aimed to study long-term developments in cattle management and mobility in the Netherlands from the Iron Age to the Roman period (750 BC – AD 450). Iron Age society in the Netherlands was based on mixed farming with a strong pastoral component. Cattle were the dominant livestock animal. The role of cattle as an exchange medium, cattle raiding and the migration of ethnic groups with their livestock would result in a strong mobility of cattle. The proposed project specifically investigated this theme by using a novel approach. In addition, it aimed to further our understanding of cattle management in the Iron Age.
The incorporation of the southern half of the Netherlands into the Roman Empire at the start of our era had a major and widespread impact on farming. Cattle was the main meat provider in the Roman towns and army camps. This study investigated cattle management and supply in the Roman Netherlands.
Cattle is still one of the main livestock species in the Netherlands and western Europe today. Although the Roman period is one of the best known archaeological time periods, the project managed to provide new insights into animal husbandry, the pillar of the economy at that time, as well as into mobility and food supply.

The project aimed to provide new insight into whether the developments in farming that took place during the Roman period were a direct result of the Roman occupation and economic change or the continuation of earlier developments. The main objectives of the research project were:
1. To investigate movements of cattle in the Iron Age, possibly indicating exchange and/or raiding; and to investigate movements of cattle in the Roman period, more likely to be associated with short- and long-distance imports.
2. To investigate whether the size increase of cattle in the Roman period was a direct result of the incorporation of the region in the Empire or a continuation of developments starting in the Iron Age.
3. To provide a comprehensive view of cattle management in the Iron Age and Roman period.

Approach and methodology
Mobility was addressed by looking for non-local signatures in stable isotope (strontium) samples of cattle teeth. Cattle bone measurements were analysed chronologically and geographically in order to study developments in size and shape. Cattle management was investigated through analysis of mortality profiles, analysis of sex ratios and stable isotope analysis (carbon and oxygen) of cattle teeth.

The results of the strontium stable isotope analysis provide new insights into mobility of livestock in the Iron Age and Roman Netherlands. For the site of Houten-Castellum, 5 out of the 23 Iron Age cattle have a non-local strontium ratio. That means they lived elsewhere during their second year of life. In the Roman period, most of the samples from Houten are consistent with the local signal; there is little evidence for mobility. The single non-local animal could have come from an area that is not very far away (ca 15-20 km). While the lack of mobility in Houten in the Roman period may seem puzzling at first, considering the amount of trade in this period, it is logical when we consider the type of site. Houten is a rural settlement, which would have raised livestock both for subsistence and to supply towns and military sites. The flow of animals was mainly from producer to consumer site. This is confirmed by the results for a second archaeological site, the Roman town of Heerlen. The strontium isotope ratios for Heerlen indicate at least four different origins of the animals, including Heerlen (or surroundings) itself. The cattle show more variety in their origins than the pigs and sheep.
Developments in cattle size are similar for the three regions within the Roman empire: size increases in both the Early and Middle Roman periods. Outside the Roman empire, in the northern region, there are some minor fluctuations in size in the Iron Age and Roman period, but no clear pattern emerges.
The biometrical analyses have revealed not just chronological developments, but also regional differences. The northern region has the largest and most robust cattle in the Middle and Late Iron Age. In the Middle Roman period, cattle in the northern region are the smallest, while those in the southern region are the largest. The Roman influence on cattle breeding does not seem to have reached this far north.
The last aspect that was studied was cattle management. The aim of the project was to discover broad trends in cattle husbandry, both chronological, geographical and between different types of site. From the Iron Age to the Roman period, a clear change is observed. The Roman period sees an increased emphasis on the use of cattle for arable farming and transport and a decrease in an emphasis on meat and milk. The emphasis on milk is strongest in the west and the emphasis on agriculture strongest in the south. Only two regions have enough assemblages to investigate chronological as well as regional changes. In the Iron Age, the assemblages in the west either focus on milk or a mixed exploitation, while those in the central region mainly focus on meat or agriculture. In the Roman period, milk is still more important in the west and agriculture more important in the central region, but agriculture has increased in importance in both regions. The differences between the regions fit with the higher suitability of the soils in the central region for arable farming, while the development over time fits with the previously observed intensification of arable farming in the Roman period.
The work carried out during the project consisted of separate aspects:
• Stable isotope analysis of cattle teeth.
• Collecting and analysing mortality data of cattle.
• Collecting data on sex ratios and establishing sex ratios biometrically.
• Collecting and analysing biometrical data.
• Writing a paper on cattle mobility.
• Writing a paper on cattle management.
Most of the work planned for the project has been finished; only the biometrical analysis of sex ratios and the finalising of the second paper remains to be done.
The output of the project consists of two journal papers, which will be submitted later in 2019, several lectures and conference presentations, an Open Access data set of stable isotope data and a data set of age data and bone measurements.
Stable isotope analysis on animal teeth remains underused in the Netherlands. This study has demonstrated the insights such studies can provide. It has also shown the value of biometrical studies.
The results of the project have revealed that mobility of livestock and probably people was relatively common in the Iron Age and occurred over both shorter and longer distances. They have also demonstrated the complexity of food supply to a Roman town, with animals supplied from at least four different regions. The biometrical analysis has shown for the first time that size increase in cattle in the Netherlands did not start until the Roman period and was therefore not a long-term process, but can be linked directly to intensification of animal husbandry and conscious breeding for larger livestock. These developments in farming were directly related to the market demand that was introduced with the establishment of towns and army camps. Another new finding was the regional variety in cattle size and shape within the Netherlands.