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The role of the feline in the medieval society of the North Atlantic region

The role of the feline in the medieval society of the North Atlantic region

By Rachel L. F. Bonde

B.Sc. Thesis, University of Bradford, 2001

Abstract: This investigation is threefold. Firstly, a substantial literary review has been undertaken in order to establish the function of the feline during the defined geographical and spatial boundaries. The representation of the cat throughout antiquity has also been reviewed in this manner. Secondly, a cat bone assemblage recovered from an excavation at Earl’s Bu, Orphir in Orkney has been systematically analysed and a number of issues addressed. These include, calculating the N.I.S.P. count, establishing the minimum number of individuals represented at the site, the age and size at death of the animals and the reason for death. This research has also involved a study of the remains for evidence of burning, pathology and butchery. Thirdly, eighteen archaeological sites have been reviewed. This analysis covered the recording and identification methods applicable to the recovery of any cat bones from these sites. The information attained from this review has been summarised and applied to the future recovery of feline remains.

A general conclusion realised from this research is that the data sets, to date, are not large enough to be wholly definitive and this is further hindered by the poor recovery and analytical methods that have been utilised in the past. However, there are aspects of a number of reports that ascertain the economic usage of cats. Evidence of butchery has been established on a percentage of the Earl’s Bu assemblage and this has been used as a comparative with other archaeological sites.

Introduction: The aim of this dissertation is to establish the role of the feline in the medieval society of the North Atlantic region. The work is being undertaken, primarily because of the apparent lack of information that currently exists in this field of potential study. While other mammal taxa, for instance; dog, (Canis sp. L.), horse, (Equus sp. L.) and sheep, (Ovis sp.), achieve relative status in an archaeological report, the importance of the cat, (Felis sp. L.) appears to be largely ignored. The recognition of feline remains being registered and / or recorded on a site report, vaguely or otherwise, indicates the significance of such a find. Yet, while the recovery of the bone or bone assemblage is deemed worthy of a mention, very little research has been done to substantiate further the reason for its presence.

The focus of a clearly defined spatial and temporal boundary, the medieval society within the North Atlantic region, is necessary in order to condense suitably the resource material available. The geographical area of study includes Iceland, Greenland, Norway, the Faeroe Islands, the Shetland Islands, the Orkney Islands and the North of Scotland. In particular, analysis will focus upon the Orkney Islands and Caithness in the Northern uppermost area of Scotland. Principle sites of archaeological interest are Crosskirk Broch and Freswick Links in Caithness, the Brough of Birsay, St. Boniface Church (Papa Westray), Howe by Stromness and Quaterness in Orkney. In addition, sites have been considered outside of the Orkney Islands and Caithness to act as a comparative. These include Scalloway in Shetland, Montrose, Perth and St. Andrews in Scotland, Odense and Tybrind Vig in Denmark, Cambridge in England and miscellaneous sites that date to the medieval period in the Netherlands.

Click here to read this thesis from the 3D Archaeology Society

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