ULAS projects

Archaeozoological work at University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) comprises the examination of bones from a wide range of archaeological interventions undertaken in and around Leicestershire. The work is predominantly developer-funded, following PPG16 guidelines, however research projects are also carried out from time to time.

The faunal remains are primarily recovered during hand-excavation, but this is supplemented by routine bulk sampling, together with spot sampling of particularly interesting deposits. The Leicestershire soils (clays, sands and gravels) are not always conducive to the survival of bones, so the size and condition of these assemblages varies greatly from site to site.

Recording, analysis and reporting on the faunal material takes place in an integrated environment alongside in-house specialists in environmental remains, human bones, Roman and medieval pottery. In addition, the site directors and excavation staff are usually on-hand to share information.

Besides being part of a team, a major benefit of working within an archaeological unit is the diversity of the assemblages that reach the laboratory bench. These are recovered from different types of site, such as domestic, agricultural, religious and industrial, and range in date from the prehistoric to the post-medieval period. In addition, the position of ULAS within the University enables us to access the expertise of academic and technical staff, as well as the many excellent facilities.

Current highlights

Despite the economic downturn, routine work at ULAS continues apace, although recent projects have generally been on a smaller scale. However, even these modest assemblages provide valuable information, contributing to our growing knowledge of the use and exploitation of animals and animal products in the region.

Between 2006 and 2010, faunal analysis at ULAS focused on the wealth of material produced by large-scale excavations in the centre of Leicester, as part of the exciting Highcross Leicester project, which has helped shed new light on life in the Roman and medieval town. The large quantity of material produced by the excavations provided a valuable opportunity to build on previous zooarchaeological work carried out in Leicester.

Species variety, mortality profiles, biometric data and butchery were examined to help shed light both on economic and social trends, as well as explanations for specific accumulations of bones. Evidence for Roman bone-working and medieval pig-keeping were among the highlights.

Further assemblages from Leicester, such as those from excavations at the De Montfort campus and on Sanvey Gate, have also added to our knowledge of diet, butchery and craft-working in the Roman, medieval and post-medieval town and suburbs. The results are now contributing to a new integrated publication on life in the town. A taste of this approach is provided by a collaborative paper on a Roman pit from Castle Street, Leicester. See our poster about this research (PDF, 476kb) to find out more.

Other recent highlights include the Iron Age shrine of Hallaton in Leicestershire, where large deposits of animal bones were associated with the deposition of gold and silver coins, artefacts and a Roman cavalry helmet. This extraordinary bone group was very species-selective and was composed predominantly of young pigs, thought to represent feasting and sacrifice, with evidence for dog burials also suggesting sacrifice.

The shrine assemblage made an interesting contrast with two Iron Age settlement sites: Manor Farm, Humberstone and Beaumont Leys, on the outskirts of Leicester. Cattle and sheep were the dominant species, with lesser numbers of pigs, horses and dogs. The Humberstone assemblage included a large cache of shed red deer antler, presumably intended for the making of artefacts. Both sites have recently been published in Ancient History and Archaeology monographs:

  • Browning, J, 2011, ‘The Animal Bones’ in V Score, Hoards, Hounds and Helmets: A Conquest Period Ritual Site at Hallaton, Leicestershire, Archaeology Monograph No. 21, Leicester: Leicester University Press, 103-135
  • Browning, J, 2011, ‘The Animal Bone’ in J Thomas, Two Iron Age 'Aggregated' Settlements in the Environs of Leicester: Excavations at Beaumont Leys and Humberstone, Archaeology Monograph No. 19, Leicester: Leicester University Press, 102-122
  • Score, V, Browning, J, Johnson, E, Monckton, A and Kipling, R, 2010, ‘A Roman ‘Delicatessen’ at Castle Street, Leicester’, Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society, Vol. 84, 77-94

Further information

For more information on the work of ULAS and further details of our sites, please visit the ULAS website.