Shadow Of The Wall

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Bone Evidence


Equine bone Evidence on Hadrian's Wall

Iron Age horses in Britain were, on average, probably just over 12 hands 1 inch (49 inches, 1245 mm) high and very robust.

In the Roman period British horses were possibly, on average, the smallest in Roman Europe, at 13 hands 1 inch (1351 mm) but were very robust.

Mules in Roman Britain were smaller than on the continent at about 13 hands and 1.5 inches (1359 mm), probably because local breeding of mules occurred in Britain using relatively small British ponies. A few donkey remains have been found in Britain. Lack of donkey evidence may reflect an inappropriate northern environment.

A relatively high number of horses, compared with mules and donkeys, is evident in Roman Britain. It was expensive and logistically problematic for Romans to transport animals to Britain for breeding purposes. Native ponies were probably “better adapted to the colder, wetter climate of northern England than mules (and particularly the donkeys used to breed them)” (2).

Horses did not increase in size immediately following the Roman conquest. Possibly British Iron Age horses were considered adequate for the immediate needs of the Roman army. The small sizes of local mules may be a consequence of local mule breeding.

There is little present evidence for Roman mules in northern Britain Pack horses, rather than baggage mules, seemed to carry out road transport, the opposite of other European provinces. Very few mule bones have been identified to date.

References for bone evidence:

1.Clough, S, The Human and Animal Bone: Catalogue of the Human Bone, Appendix 12, 1468 -1479.

2. Johnstone, C J, A Biometric Study of Equids in the Roman World, Thesis submitted for PhD, University of YorkDepartment of Archaeology, September 2004.

3. Johnstone, C J, Feeding the Roman Army: the Archaeology of Production and Supply in NW Europe, Edited by S Stallibrass and R Thomas Oxbow Books, Published by Oxbow Books, Oxford, UK, © Oxbow Books and the authors, 2008, ISBN 978-1-84217-323-7.

4. Stallibrass, S, Discussion of horse bones from the punic ditch.

5. Hodgson, N, The Roman Wall at Wallsend, Segedunum, Excavations in 1997-8, Tyne and Wear Museums Archaeological Monograph 2, Newcastle Upon Tyne, 2003.

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