What’s on : Lectures

Un-natural Selection? : People And Animals In Roman Yorkshire

25 Apr 2009
Start time
2:30 PM
Tempest Anderson Hall
Prof Terry O'Connor
Un-natural Selection? : People And Animals In Roman Yorkshire

Event Information

Joint lecture with the Yorkshire Archaeological Society, Roman Antiquities Section

Un-natural Selection? : People And Animals In Roman Yorkshire

Prof Terry O’Connor, Dept of Archaeology, Univeristy of York


by Carole Smith

The Yorkshire landscape contains evidence of arable farming practices from the Neolithic to the Roman period and beyond. Bone finds in Yorkshire also show surviving Neolithic and Iron-Age fauna being exploited by the Roman settlers. Cattle bones found at military sites suggest heavy demand for beef, but the age of the bones at death suggests the main value of cattle was in arable farming – they were only eaten once they were past yoke-bearing.  Small-boned indigenous sheep were also valuable to arable farming as seasonal-grazing muck-spreaders on high plateaux in the Dales. Roman pack-animal bones (donkeys and mules) are found in the regions at the end of trade routes, but the cargo they imported also carried rats, mice, and grain beetles.  For pets the Romans imported dogs of all sizes, and birds; and possibly the hamster-like garden dormouse whose bones are found all over the empire – but, contrary to legend, cats were here already. Bone finds in early medieval sites show that lynx, wolves, bears and the white-tailed eagle, which all need tree cover, survived the Roman occupation, and suggest that there was more woodland than formerly believed, providing undisturbed habitat for wildlife. Later medieval ploughing and forest clearance later destroyed much of this.