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Keywords:

  • Animal bones;
  • Taphonomy;
  • Gnawing;
  • Midden deposits;
  • Runnymede;
  • Prehistoric Britain

Abstract

Runnymede has large samples of Neolithic and Late Bronze Age animal bones, with contrasting preservation conditions in both periods. The bone evidence has been used to interpret the formation of the site deposits.

There are few articulated bones, and no joins were found in butchered bone, indicating that the area studied did not contain primary refuse. Various aspects of bone alteration have been analysed: (i) the proportion of bones with very good surface preservation was high in the in situ Neolithic excavation units and the basal Bronze Age midden, but bones in the upper units were mostly eroded. These units are reworked flood deposits. The greater degree of fragmentation of the bone in the reworked units has been quantified, using a system of recording the ‘zones’ present on each bone, which allows calculation of the fraction present. It is also demonstrated that the reworked units contain a lower proportion of identified bones and a higher proportion of teeth and iaws than the units with well-preserved bone, (ii) Quantification of canid gnawing shows, unexpectedly, that more was recorded on well-preserved bone. Thus recognition of gnawing depends on bone condition. This also confirms that most of the erosion of the bone surface is a post-depositional phenomenon.

The sequence of activities is therefore interpreted as follows: meat was cooked and consumed, and the bones discarded for the dogs. At a later stage, larger bones were picked up and thrown away in the river or midden. Some ethnographic examples of periodic cleaning of farming settlements are cited.