The skeletons of Stafford: a visit to the Potteries Museum, Stoke-on-Trent

Stafford has been chosen as a pilot case study for the FeedSax project. Excavations from within the town have produced good quantities of pollen and archaeobotanical remains as well as a small assemblage of animal bone. The town is also blessed with a rich historical record, which therefore provides an ideal context in which to test the FeedSax methods and better understand how our different approaches can inform each other as well as the past agricultural practices in the hinterland.

On Tuesday 16th October the zooarchaeologists of the FeedSax team (Matilda Holmes and Richard Thomas) paid a visit to the Potteries Museum in Stoke-on-Trent to record animal bones recovered from three sites excavated in Stafford. We were met by the extremely helpful and friendly Alison Nicholls, curator of the Potteries Museum, who had recovered numerous large boxes containing the material from the stores.


We were most interested in using the animal bone as a test case for our recording strategy.  This had been developed to answer specific questions relating to the use of cattle and sheep during the Anglo-Saxon period.


The bones were poorly preserved, which proved a problem and emphasised the challenges we will encounter in regions that are not conducive to good preservation – those that have an underlying geology that destroys bone.

Despite the small sample size, we did encounter some examples of pathology relevant to the project questions. We are interested in recording deformities to the feet of cattle that could represent their use for ploughing (to trace the spread of the heavy plough), as well as changes to the bones of sheep elbow joints, which may have implications for penning. As a first step, the case study proved hugely useful for refining methods and recording strategies. It also highlighted the need for large, multi-period assemblages to enable more robust sample sizes.


One of the perks of re-visiting archive assemblages is that you never know what you will encounter. The first box opened contained the ‘lost’ remains of a performing bear! While the animal was mentioned in the original site report, it has not been included in subsequent investigations into the presence of bears in the archaeological record. Now it will be remembered once again.

Matilda Holmes


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One thought on “The skeletons of Stafford: a visit to the Potteries Museum, Stoke-on-Trent

  1. dearieme

    I’ve been wondering again about strip farming and all that. The case against it is so strong that an explanation is needed for why it was ever adopted.

    I propose that the problem it solved wasn’t an agricultural one, it was a financial one – a lack of a good supply of trusted low-value coins that could be stored securely. Instead of paying each other for various things, the peasants had to barter, and what they had to offer was their labour.


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