Wendy Howard

Department: Archaeology
Discipline: Archaeology

Project Summary


PhD research: Commensal or Comestible? The role and exploitation of smaller mammals in prehistory: Towards a methodology for improving identification of human utilisation.

This research investigates the exploitation and role of small non-ungulate mammals in early European prehistory (mainly the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods). While much zooarchaeological research has focussed on large mammals, which are the more obvious choice for hunter-gatherer exploitation given their size, other potential faunal components of prehistoric diet have been somewhat overlooked. This is mostly due to the methodological problems associated with distinguishing human modification of bone from that of other predators or natural effects, yet smaller species were utilised, and it is essential to understand the relative exploitation of all taxa groups to gain a more holistic understanding of the diet spectrum, economies and practices of prehistoric populations.

The aim of this research is to redress this imbalance by examining small (hare/badger-sized) species rather than large mammals, considering the potential contribution they made to hominin diet and the provision of raw material resources, and investigating their more symbolic or abstract roles within different cultures. The intention is also to improve upon the methods available for identifying when human exploitation has occurred. Western Europe is the main study area, but as there are no extant hunter-gatherer groups in Europe this research is addressed through a multifaceted approach. Archaeological and ethnographic sources from other areas are examined to identify different potential methods of acquiring and utilising such species, while actualistic experiments and taphonomic study are employed to further elucidate the types of bone modification produced by different anthropogenic practices, and differentiate them from other factors affecting bone.

Supervisory Team

Principal supervisor: Professor Alan Outram

Second supervisor: Professor Bruce Bradley


Wider Research Interests

 Current archaeological research interests include:

  • Zooarchaeology and palaeoeconomics
  • Palaeopathology
  • The use of radiography in archaeology
  • Osteoarchaeology
  • Prehistoric art
  • Prehistoric archaeology, particularly the earlier period