Late Romano-British-early medieval socio-economic and cultural change : analysis of the mammal and bird bone assemblages from the Roman city of Viroconium Cornoviorum, Shropshire
The late Romano-British - early medieval transition remains a poorly understood phenomenon. The exact nature of the so-called cessation of Roman Britain is still contested, and the subsequent period is poorly understood because of historical misconceptions and a paucity of evidence. Various perspectives have been postulated to account for this transition, ranging from unsuccessful acculturation and discontinuity to concepts of Late Antiquity. Traditionally it has been assumed that some form of `systems collapse' occurred, although its existence and severity remain largely unsubstantiated. The analysis of artefact categories to elucidate this epoch has largely been unsuccessful for a variety of reasons (the period becomes largely aceramic, etc). Yet systematic zooarchaeological study of this period has not been attempted. Such an analysis would therefore be innovative and might provide hitherto unconsidered interpretations. The zooarchaeological study presented here has allowed a consideration of two important aspects common to most perspectives: the agrarian economy (agricultural production and distribution) and the cultural identity of the population (through the exploration of their gastronomic tastes). The city of Viroconium Cornoviorum is ideal for conducting such a research project because it is one of very few sites with direct continuity of activity over this transitional period. It has been the object of extensive excavations, during which large finds assemblages were retrieved. Assessment determined that the baths basilica site was suitable in terms of size, content and chronological spread. It was characterised by Roman public buildings transformed into an early medieval private residence of an important individual. Analysis of the vertebrate assemblage demonstrated that there was no downturn in the agrarian economy, animal husbandry or distribution networks between the 40s and 7`s centuries AD. The composition of the assemblage throughout the period of activity adhered to the typical urban Romano-British diet (thus demonstrating their Romanitas). During the 6th - 7th centuries AD subtle changes occurred. Animal utilisation, butchery and discard practices were modified, and wild species were more actively exploited. A cultural rather than utilitarian explanation has been developed to account for these changes.