A Bronze Age Water World in Sussex

As usual after visiting Jo recently I left with a bag of bones.

Being a freelance osteoarchaeologist, to me, this is normal behaviour.

This bag of bones came from Shinewater in Eastbourne,  a Bronze Age waterlogged timber platformed site similar to that of Flag-Fen in Peterborough.

I have been given permission to share my analysis. I hope you enjoy this little snap-shot into the past.

My findings:

The mixed assemblage of bones from the Late Bronze Age (800-600BC) timber platform and causeway wetland site of Shinewater consisted of 45 fragments weighing 1209g from an unknown context. These remains were discovered during the construction of the lake and represent a small percentage from a larger assemblage.

The bones were identified using Schmid (1972) aged using Silver (1969), measured using Von Den Driesch (1976) and calculated withers height using Von Den Driesch and Boessneck (1974).

Medium Unid. Mammal 17 38
Large Unid. Mammal 13 29
Cattle 6 13 1 25
Deer 5 11 1 25
Human 3 7 1 25
Sheep/goat 1 2 1 25
Total 45 100 4 100

Table 1. Assemblage Number of Individual Specimens and Minimum Number of Individuals

The species present, in order of abundance are shown in Table 1 above, which illustrates the NISP (Number of Individual Specimens) and MNI (Minimum Number of Individuals) from the assemblage with the percentages rounded up to the nearest whole number.

The bones showed signs of moderate to severe erosion; weathering and exposure had caused cracks and flaking to the cortex. These remains were also affected by waterlogged conditions staining the bones. One of the cow bones showed signs of early gnawing, possibly by a dog or fox, with scratches on the surface possibly from the animal’s claws as it held the bone (Fig. 1). Two of the cow bones showed evidence of butchery.

The Medium Unidentifiable Mammal bones comprised of fragments from both long bones and a scapula. Skull and long bone fragments represented the Large Unidentifiable Mammal bones, 2 of these fragments showed taphonomic changes to the bone surface through contact with a heat source turning the bones ivory in colour. This group of bone fragments was represented by adult and juvenile specimens.

The cattle remains comprised of 2 permanent teeth; 1 mandibular P4, well worn, and an incisor also from the mandible. Butchery was evident in a fragmented left radius from an individual older than 18 months; multiple chops were evident on the shaft near to the proximal articulation. A fragmented left mandibular hinge and part of a right femur with strong muscle attachments were also present. The fragmented femur had dog or fox teeth puncture marks on the medial aspect of the distal condyle, along with surface scratches possibly from the claws of the animal holding the bone.

 One right complete metatarsal (Fig. 2) was also present within the assemblage; multiple knife cuts were evident on the shaft. Measurements were taken (GL 212mm, Bd 51.20mm, Bp 46.67mm and SD 24.33mm) and compared against the data in the ABMAP (Animal Bones Metrical Archive Project Serjeantson, D. 2003). These measurements were slightly larger than the Late Bronze Age metrical data from the ABMAP database. Although sexual dimorphism is likely to have affected the results as male and female data is not included, it’s possible that the remains represented in the database could be female or small males (castrates). It is clear from the measurements and withers height, of 113cm, that this metatarsal is not from an Aurochs, but a domestic cattle species.

The deer from this assemblage is represented by 5 fragments from 2 antler tines. The human bones comprised of one fragmented left 1st metacarpal, one fragmented left 1st metatarsal and one fragmented left tibia shaft (Fig. 3 & 4) the medial aspect of which had been exposed to a heat source. The sheep/goat from this assemblage comprised of a left acetabulum from an individual older than 10 months of age at death.



Fig. 1. Cattle femur with tooth puncture marks from a dog or fox on the edge of the condyle



Fig. 2. Cattle metatarsal.



Fig. 3. Human tibia shaft medial aspect discoloured by a heat source.



Fig. 4. Human tibia shaft showing the undamaged surface.



Pandolfi, L et al (2011) Bos primigenius Bojanus, 1827 from Early Late Pleistocene deposit of Avetrana (South Italy) and the variation in size of the species in South Europe: Preliminary report. Department of Earth Sciences. Sapienza University of Rome. Journal of Geological Research. Volume 2011.

Schmid, E. (1972) Atlas of Animal Bones for Prehistorians, Archaeologists, and Quaternary Geologists. London, Elsevier Publishing.

Serjeantson, D. 2003. Animal Bones Metrical Archive Project. University of Southampton. Archaeological Data Service.

Silver, I. A (1969) The ageing of domestic animals. In D. Brothwell & E. Higgs (eds.) Science in Archaeology. 283-302.

Von Den Driesch, A (1976) A Guide To The Measurement of Animal Bones From Archaeological Sites. Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. Harvard University.

Von Den Driesch, A and Boessneck, J (1974)  Sonderdruck aus ‘’Säugetierkundliche Mitteilungen’’ BLV- Verlagsgesellschaft München 40, 22 jhg, Heft 4 Seite 325-348. Kritische Anmerkungen zur Widerristhöhenberechnung aus Längenmaßen vor- und frühgeschichtlicher Tierknochen.