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Zooarchaeology, improvement and the British agricultural revolution

By Richard M. Thomas


This is the author's final draft of the paper published as International Journal of Historical Archaeology, 2005, 9(2), pp.71-88. The original publication is available at, doi:10.1007/s10761-005-8140-9This paper seeks to revisit the debate concerning the nature and timing of the British Agricultural Revolution. Specifically, it considers how zooarchaeological evidence can be employed to investigate later-medieval and post-medieval ‘improvements’ in animal husbandry. Previous studies of animal bone assemblages have indicated that the size of many domestic species in England increases from the 15th century - an observation that has been used to support the writings of those historians that have argued that the Agricultural Revolution occurred several centuries prior to the traditionally ascribed date of 1760-1840. Here, zooarchaeological data are presented which suggest that the size of cattle, sheep, pig and domestic fowl were increasing from as early as the 14th century. However, it is argued that the description of these changes as revolutionary is misleading and disguises the interplay of factors that influenced agricultural practice in the post-Black Death period. This paper concludes with a plea for greater awareness of the value of collecting and analysing faunal data from the 18th and 19th centuries to enable the historically-attested productivity increases of the traditionally dated Agricultural Revolution to be examined archaeologically

Publisher: Springer
Year: 2005
DOI identifier: 10.1007/s10761-005-8140-9
OAI identifier:

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