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Title: Chickens in the archaeological material culture of Roman Britain, France, and Belgium
Author: Feider, Michael
ISNI:       0000 0004 6423 7891
Awarding Body: Bournemouth University
Current Institution: Bournemouth University
Date of Award: 2017
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Chickens first arrived in northwest Europe in the Iron Age, but it was during the Roman period that they became a prominent part of life. Previous research on the domestication and spread of chickens has focused on the birds themselves, with little discussion of their impact on the beliefs and symbolism of the affected cultures. However, an animal that people interact with so regularly influences more than simply their diet, and begins to creep into their cultural lexicon. What did chickens mean to the people of Roman Britain, France, and Belgium? The physical remains of these birds are the clearest sign that people were keeping them, and fragments of eggshell suggest they were being used for their secondary products as well as for their meat. By expanding zooarchaeological research beyond the physical remains to encompass the material culture these people left behind, it is possible to explore answers to this question of the social and cultural roles of chickens and their meaning and importance to people in the Roman world. Other species, most notably horses, have received some attention in this area, but little has been done with chickens. Studies of depictions on various types of artefacts have touched on chickens alongside other species, but they rarely play a central role. Rather than starting with a single type of object and exploring all of the concepts it embraces, this study starts with a concept, namely the social perception of chickens, and draws from objects regardless of typology. A database of artefacts depicting or relating to chickens was compiled from Late Iron Age and Roman sites in the project area. A total of 508 artefacts, including metal- detected finds, were identified from approximately 270 sites in England, Scotland, and Wales, and 1368 artefacts were identified from approximately 200 sites in France and Belgium. These objects include jewellery, fine pottery, sculpture, and standalone figurines from sites across the region. The majority represented single birds, but some accompanied human figures, often representations of Mercury, and others included additional images with potential symbolic synergy. This collection of chicken-related artefacts shows that the chicken had a role that extended beyond the next meal, linking them with deities, such as Mercury, and ideals, such as virility and abundance, which people may have tried to connect with by owning such items. Through careful contextual and iconographic analysis of these objects, this thesis places chickens into the cultural landscape of Roman Britain, France, and Belgium, and allows their role and meaning within peoples’ social consciousness to be better understood. Chickens were depicted throughout the Roman period, appearing across both of these provinces in a variety of styles and materials that suggested that they a wide appeal across social classes. That they appear so often on personal objects and less on monumental, institutionalised artwork suggests that the symbolism they embodied arose from within those cultures in a bottom-up fashion rather than being pushed down from above. They are not as strongly linked with the underworld or the sun as they are often claimed to be, but rather show an association with wealth and prosperity and likely acted as a symbol of luck and good fortune.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available