Reading: Putting the Life Back into Livestock in Archaeology


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Putting the Life Back into Livestock in Archaeology


Andrew Reid

UCL Institute of Archaeology, London WC1H 0PY, GB
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Archaeology has long congratulated itself on the success it has achieved in exploring the domestication of animals. This work was largely undertaken by examining animal bone remains from archaeological sites, studies that encourage a focus on meat consumption. The emphasis on domestication and on direct exploitation leads to the prioritisation of the earlier occurrences of livestock. Thereafter livestock are not regarded as having been significant to human societies. Such perspectives encourage the idea that livestock lack agency. This paper explores three rich examples, each demonstrating the active role that livestock play in creating complex social relationships, in particular emphasising the importance of living animals. Maasai herding systems show that living animals reveal important information about their owners. In nineteenth century London, livestock, for transport as well as consumption, permeated all aspects of life within the city. Finally, the colonisation of Australia was hugely dependent on livestock and they continue to have a great impact on the physical environment and on human social relationships. Collectively, these examples indicate that livestock remain agents into the present day. Archaeology’s inability to consider such dynamics is a failing that needs to be rectified and some suggestions are provided on how this might be achieved.

How to Cite: Reid, A., 2020. Putting the Life Back into Livestock in Archaeology. Archaeology International, 22(1), pp.114–126. DOI:
  Published on 17 Jan 2020

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