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BY 4.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter Open Access June 17, 2022

Exploiting Sheep and Goats at the Late Lengyel Settlement in Racot 18

Arkadiusz Marciniak
From the journal Open Archaeology

Abstract

The excavations of Late Lengyel settlement in Racot 18 near Kościan are the most important archaeological achievements of Lech Czerniak in the first period of his outstanding academic career. This large settlement was made of numerous trapezoidal houses and several internal, external, and loam pits associated with them. The work at Racot 18 led to the discovery of a large assemblage of animal bones in an excellent state of preservation. The article examines the characteristics of the sheep and goat-based economy at the settlement of Racot 18. A comprehensive analysis of the caprine bones involved contextually driven faunal studies comprising taphonomy, separating sheep and goats, and kill-off patterns. The work implies a complex system of sheep and goat exploitation that includes the use of specialised harvesting strategies and the exploitation of different food resources, including meat and marrow and secondary products, most likely milk and wool. The significance of this work for recognizing the characteristics of Late Danubian agriculture in the Polish lowlands is also discussed.

1 Lech Czerniak and the Excavations of the Neolithic Settlement in Racot

After completing a PhD in 1979, Lech Czerniak became a member of the project investigating the late Danubian and Funnel Beaker Culture (TRB) occupation and settlement pattern in the southwestern part of Greater Poland. It was a logical and well justified move after his doctoral project focused upon the development of farming communities in the second half of the fifth millennium BC in Kuyavia[1] – the major Neolithic oecumene in the Polish lowlands. Czerniak worked at that time in the Prehistory Section, Department of Greater Poland Archaeology at the Institute of History of Material Culture (today the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology), Polish Academy of Sciences. The project was directed by Professor Tadeusz Wiślański – an eminent Polish archaeologist specializing in the Neolithic of Central Europe and the head of the Prehistory Section at the Institute of History of Material Culture. The field part of the project was conducted in 8 consecutive seasons in the years 1979–1986. It involved excavations of 4 sites located near Kościan: (1) Białcz Stary, site 4 in the years 1979–1983, (2) Białcz Stary, site 31 in 1983, (3) Racot, site 18 in the years 1984–1985 and 1987, and (4) Racot, site 25 in 1986. The excavations of the Neolithic settlements in Racot are the most important archaeological achievement of Lech Czerniak in the first period of his outstanding academic career (Figure 1).

Figure 1 
               Location of Racot, site 18 in the Polish lowlands.

Figure 1

Location of Racot, site 18 in the Polish lowlands.

The settlement at Białcz Stary 4 was the first site excavated in this project. The fieldwork started in 1979 and was jointly directed by Wiślański and Czerniak (1981). Altogether, five field seasons were conducted. The work led to the discovery of a large multiphase Late Lengyel settlement made of trapezoidal houses and numerous loam, domestic, and refuse pits. It involved excavating the central part of the settlement as well as numerous sondages aimed at recognizing its extent. In addition, the remains of three other settlements have been discovered, including those dated to the Neolithic Globular Amphorae Culture, the Bronze Age Lusatian Culture, and the Roman Iron Age Przeworsk culture. A single burial from the Early Bronze Age as well as TRB, Corded Ware Culture, and late medieval pottery have also been unearthed (Wiślański & Czerniak, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984a). The work in the 1983 excavation season revealed that the part of the settlement located further down the slope was destroyed by contemporary exploitation of clay and sand. Hence, further work at this site was pointless and the excavators decided to finish the work there (Wiślański & Czerniak, 1984a).

In the same year, the neighbouring site at Białcz Stary 31 was excavated (Wiślański & Czerniak, 1984b). Altogether, an area of 80 m2 was unearthed. The results were disappointing as the site turned out to be considerably destroyed due to intense agriculture and denudation and, as a result, only a concentration of redeposited TRB sherds were found.

Considering the discouraging circumstances at both sites, the researchers decided to start excavating two new sites: Racot 18 and later Racot 25 (Czerniak, 1989). They are located on the northern outskirts of Racot and are located on both sides of a small stream flowing from the village of Darnowo into Rów Wyskoć, a right tributary of the Obra River. The main reason for selecting Racot 18 was a large number of Late Lengyel pottery sherds scattered over an area of 3 ha. The site was believed to be “the most suitable from the standpoint of the recognition of features from the Late Band Pottery settlement”[2] (Czerniak, 1985). The work at both sites was a direct continuation of the project aimed at investigating the Neolithic occupation in the southwestern part of Greater Poland.

The excavations in the 1984 season were jointly directed by Tadeusz Wiślański and Lech Czerniak (Czerniak, 1986). In the remaining three seasons, Lech Czerniak directed the work at both Racot 18 and Racot 25. The first season in 1984 was a reconnaissance. It involved opening up two sondages, which were subsequently extended making a total excavated area of 562 m2. The results were satisfactory and promising. In all, three Late Lengyel trapezoidal longhouses were unearthed, in addition to numerous loam, internal, and external pits. In addition, the remains of occupation from four other periods were discovered. These comprised Linear Band Pottery Culture (LBK) sherds, 7 TRB pits, 3 pits of Lusatian culture, and 14 early medieval pits. Czerniak (1985) already, after the first season of work, noticed the significance of this settlement and stressed its similarities to large settlements of Brześć Kujawski type from Kuyavia.

In the following 1985 excavation season, an area of 872 m2 was exposed, revealing 11 new trapezoidal houses and as many as 80 Late Lengyel features in addition to 25 TRB and 8 early medieval features. An important discovery was the burial of a young woman, interred in a crouched position on her right side with her head facing south with a number of grave goods, including a necklace of animal teeth, copper beads, 18 richly ornamented armlets made of cow ribs, a hip belt of Unio shells, and two pots (Czerniak et al., 2016; Czerniak, 1986).

The third and final excavation season at Racot 18 occurred in 1987 and involved unearthing another 900 m2 of settlement area. The work revealed 11 new trapezoidal houses as well as 39 pits of different functions and characteristics. In addition, 11 TRB features and 10 early medieval features were excavated (Czerniak, 1988).

In the 1986 season, Lech Czerniak and his team excavated contemporaneous sites on the other bank of a small stream, known as Racot 25. Altogether, 977 m2 was excavated in the form of 7 longitudinal sondage trenches. Racot 25 had only one longhouse, and possibly the remains of two others, located in an area of ca. 3 ha exposed in two sondages (2.5 m × 50 m) and two small extensions. Among the features discovered were 29 small loam pits. Four of them were defined as refuse pits. In addition, different pits and postholes, some of unspecified character, dated to the Funnel Beaker Culture, as well as early medieval and early historic period features, were unearthed. Racot 18 and 25 settlements arguably comprised one dwelling complex, but functions of their respective parts, may have differed. As argued by Czerniak (1987), the former site was residential, while the latter was used for a range of economic purposes.

The project aimed at investigating the Neolithic occupation and settlement pattern in the southwestern part of Greater Poland revealed that the settlements at Białcz Stary and Racot were important elements of the Late Lengyel microregion in the zone of fertile black soils. Except for these settlements, three other important sites have also been recorded. These comprise Czacz, Nacław, and Wilanowo. Each of these sites marks a separate settlement cluster. In turn, each cluster is made up of numerous smaller sites in the immediate vicinity of the main settlement. They are located at the edge of the upland, directly over a watercourse and near the most fertile soil patches. They were placed ca. 5–6 km from each other. In addition to the strongly grouped core of the microregion, there was a more extensive penetration zone that stretched for a distance of up to 20 km, as indicated by the distribution of stray stone tools (Szydłowski, 2013). The later TRB occupation differed significantly from its Late Lengyel predecessors. It was smaller, and the local groups occupied various environs, including less fertile areas.

2 Late Lengyel Settlement at Racot 18

Racot 18 settlement was approximately 3 ha in size and covered an area of 400 m × 75 m (Figure 2). Only about 10% of its total surface area has been excavated. Analysis revealed the details of its occupation and its subsequent phases (Czerniak et al., 2016). The settlement was occupied for more than 3, possibly 4, occupation phases, for 275–410 years (95% probability), and probably for 335–390 years (68% probability).

Figure 2 
               Schematic plan of Racot 18 and Racot 25 and plan of Racot 18 showing site phasing and house-plans (after Czerniak et al., 2016, Figure 2).

Figure 2

Schematic plan of Racot 18 and Racot 25 and plan of Racot 18 showing site phasing and house-plans (after Czerniak et al., 2016, Figure 2).

The earliest phase of the settlement occupation comprised Late Lengyel phase IIB. Its occupation lasted for 25–95 years (95% probability), probably for 40–80 years (68% probability). It began in 4385–4285 cal BC (95% probability), probably in 4350–4310 cal BC. The following Late Lengyel IIIA occupation lasted for 65–185 years (95% probability), probably for 100–165 years (68% probability). Late Lengyel phase IIIA began in 4285–4200 cal BC (95% probability), most likely in 4270–4230 cal BC (68% probability), and ended in 4145–4050 cal BC (95% probability), most likely in 4110–4060 cal BC (68% probability). Lengyel IIIB occupation lasted for 45–225 years (95% probability), probably for 105–185 years (68% probability). Phase IIIB was additionally subdivided into sub-phases 1 and 2. Late Lengyel phase IIIB began in 4095–3985 cal BC (95% probability), probably in 4075–4015 cal BC (68% probability), and it ended in 4035–3885 cal BC (95% probability), probably in 3970–3915 cal BC (68% probability). It marked the end of the Late Lengyel settlement at Racot 18 (Czerniak et al., 2016).

The settlement has been undergoing dynamic development throughout its existence. It is estimated that between 15 and 21 houses were present in Phase IIB, although not all of these may have been used at the same time. If one assumes that around two-thirds of these houses were standing at any one time in this phase, the settlement may have consisted of 10–14 longhouses at this time. A similar number of houses may have been used in Phases IIIA and IIIB-1. In Phase IIIB-2, however, it is possible that the settlement was reduced in size to between five and seven longhouses. The period also marked a departure from hitherto dominant architectural practices, as manifested by abandoning the NW-SE alignments of longhouses, thereby creating more random orientations. Subsequent houses were no longer built next to one another. They were also more solidly constructed and had small rooms or annexes attached (Houses 12 and 106; probably House 211). These significant spatial changes indicate the emergence of activity areas outside the house. Some houses had oval or rectangular internal pits in their centres, often interpreted as small cellars. A number of external pits, most likely used for storage, flanked the longhouse in each phase. Longhouses, from the early phase, in particular, were also flanked by clusters of loam pits (Czerniak et al., 2016).

3 Fauna from the Late Lengyel Settlement at Racot 18

The faunal assemblage from Racot 18 settlement was analysed and published by Marciniak (2014a). It totalled 5,229 bones (NISP – Number of Identified Specimens). Bones are in an excellent state of preservation, which is well attested by a huge proportion, amounting to 87.9% of all recovered specimens, being identifiable. The dominant species is cattle (33.9%), followed by sheep/goats (31.1%), and pigs (12.2%). During the initial examination, the caprine material was assigned to the indeterminate sheep/goat (Ovis sp./Capra sp.) category. The roe deer was the most common wild animal (2.6%), followed by red deer (1.3%), beaver (1.1%), and wild horse (0.8%). The faunal material originates almost exclusively from three major categories of features: (1) internal pits inside longhouses, (2) external pits associated with longhouses, but located outside, and (3) loam pits[3] (Marciniak, 2014a).

Altogether, 911 bones were deposited in pits dated to Phase IIB. They were in very good state of preservation, with 16.3% being unidentified. The assemblage was dominated by sheep/goats (45%), followed by pigs (16%), and cattle represented by 13.9% of the bones. Other species were present in much small numbers (Marciniak, 2014a).

In the following phase IIIA, the assemblage was composed of 1,054 bones. They were also well preserved, with only 10.1% of them remaining unidentified. Similarly, as in the preceding period, the fauna was dominated by sheep/goats (47.7%), followed by pigs (14.0%), cattle (11.4%), and roe deer (8.3%). Other species were present in small numbers (Marciniak, 2014a).

In the final phase (IIIB), we have a small assemblage of only 165 specimens. All of them were identified. The species composition changed considerably. It was dominated by cattle (43%) and sheep/goats (40%), but there is a dramatic decrease in the number of pigs (5.5%). We also came across roe deer (5.5%) and red deer (4.2%) (Marciniak, 2014a).

4 Separating Sheep and Goats in a Faunal Assemblage from Racot 18

The northward expansion of the Neolithic farmers involved an increased frequency of cattle, probably as an adaptation to continental life north of the Alps (Ethier et al., 2017; Manning et al., 2013; McClure, 2015). Cattle have been regarded as the most important domesticated animal and arguably played a dominant role in the lives of early farmers, in terms of their social significance and providing the biggest contribution to their diet (e.g., Bogucki, 1988; Marciniak, 2005, 2020). Little research regarding Neolithic caprine husbandry has been undertaken as both sheep and goats were believed to be unsuitable in the temperate regions of this part of Europe. A relatively little proportion of caprine bones in early Neolithic assemblages, most notably in the LBK (Marciniak, 2005), seems to justify this assertion. This stems in contrast with the zooarchaeological work in southern Europe and Anatolia, in particular in the Balkans, where the exploitation of sheep and goats has been intensively examined, benefiting from the dynamic development of zooarchaeological studies along with stable isotopes, ceramic lipids, or DNA (e.g., Greenfield & Arnold, 2015; Pearson et al., 2007).

However, to address the purpose for which caprines were raised, it is necessary to go beyond the “zooarchaeological species” known as sheep/goats or caprines and identify sheep (Ovis aries) and goats (Capra hircus) in the studied assemblage as well as reveal the proportion between them. It is important as both animals were usually present in the investigated context and both taxa were raised as part of an integrated regime of agrarian practice serving different purposes, alongside cattle and cereal agriculture.

Distinguishing between the bones of a goat and a sheep is a topic that has been discussed often in the framework of zooarchaeology. This is due to the similar structure of the skeleton that results from the relatedness of these animals at the subfamily level (Caprinae). Both morphological and metrical methods have been used to serve this purpose. The problem was first addressed systematically by Boessneck, Müller, and Teichert (1964), who considered almost all skeletal elements from a morphological perspective. These methods have been later applied to the dentition and postcranial elements. As regards the former, Payne (1985) used deciduous dentition, while Halstead, Collins, and Isaakidou (2002) focused on permanent teeth. Various morphological methods have also been applied to postcranial elements (Zeder & Lapham, 2010). A wide range of metrical methods have also been proposed to differentiate sheep and goats. They used the metapodials (Payne, 1969; Rowley-Conwy, 1998) and the astragalus (Davis, 2017). Salvagno and Albarella (2017) applied discriminant analysis by analysing several skeletal elements. These different attempts showed a different degree of reliability while distinguishing sheep and goats from archaeological faunal assemblages. It has been noted that the reference caprines used for these studies often differ considerably from prehistoric animals, so metrical methods cannot effectively discriminate. Using conventional morphological criteria also suffers from interobserver error, resulting in a lack of reliability in separating the taxa using these methods (Gron, Rowley‐Conwy, Jensen, Taurozzi, & Marciniak, 2020; Zeder & Lapham, 2010). Recent attempt to apply geometric morphometric methods proved to be successful in identifying morphological differences and distinguishing between sheep and goat in Central Asian contexts (Haruda, 2016).

Considering these methodological shortcomings, the most effective method to discriminate between sheep and goats in zooarchaeology is mass spectrometry (ZooMS). It aims at determining animals by peptide fingerprinting for (mineralised) collagenous materials (van Doorn, 2014). Considering the size of the Late Lengyel assemblage from Racot 18 and the presence of a significant number of caprine bones, the application of this method offers a unique opportunity to address the purpose of Ovis aries and Capra hircus exploitation in Neolithic economies.

The method was used to differentiate sheep and goats, from 22 samples preliminarily identified on a morphological basis as caprines, originating from a range of contexts from the settlement at Racot 18 (Gron et al., 2020). Of the specimens under study, 19 animals could be identified. The assemblage showed a mixed proportion of sheep (n = 11) and goats (n = 8) (Gron et al., 2020).

Altogether, 15 individuals come from Late Lengyel contexts of secure stratigraphic position.

  1. IIB – two individuals: one goat from the loam pit and one sheep from the internal pit

  2. IIIA – seven individuals: five goats and two sheep – all from external pits

  3. IIIB – six individuals: two goats and four sheep – all from external pits

5 Raising Sheep and Goats and Eating their Products at Racot 18

The kill-off patterns offer reliable methods for the recognition of domestic animal management. The reconstructed profiles can be assessed in terms of the viability of the adopted strategy, usually in the long-term perspective, even though the method has numerous shortcomings (refer detailed discussion Marciniak 2011, 2014b). Domesticated animal mortality data derived from dental eruption and wear and replacement as well as epiphyseal fusion of long bones can provide insights into slaughter management and, consequently, animal husbandry practices.

The recently reconstructed kill-off patterns for sheep and goats from the Late Lengyel settlement in Racot (Wybult, 2019) shed some light on corresponding husbandry practices. The work was based on the analysis of 242 specimens originating from all major features encountered at the site, including internal, external, and loam pits. Out of this, 51 mandibles and 45 teeth were examined. The caprine mandibles were used to construct the kill-off pattern based upon Payne’s (1973) method. The analysis revealed the dominance of class D, which is animals between 1 and 2 years of age. This may indicate the significance of the slaughter of animals for their meat. However, an interesting phenomenon is the relatively large number of jaws and teeth from classes G and H (4–7.5 years), which indicates their use for the exploitation of secondary products, including wool or milk (Figure 3). A similar kill-off pattern was revealed by the analysis of epiphyseal fusion of long bones. Animals around 2 years of age appeared with the highest frequency. The mortality of young animals is negligible with only 2% of the animals killed in stage 1, suggesting that most of the animals survived until at least 16 months of age.

Figure 3 
               Racot 18. Kill-off patterns for sheep (OA) and goats (CH) based on caprine mandibles. The left column – a number of mandibles; the right column – % age survivorship (after Wybult, 2019, Figure 6.1).

Figure 3

Racot 18. Kill-off patterns for sheep (OA) and goats (CH) based on caprine mandibles. The left column – a number of mandibles; the right column – % age survivorship (after Wybult, 2019, Figure 6.1).

The mandibular data indicates the dominance of goats over sheep in the youngest category until 16 months of age. Among the sheep, individuals in age category C and higher dominate (Deniz & Payne, 1982). This indicates that caprines were managed for both milk and meat production. This is further corroborated by the results of biometric and LSI analysis, indicating a small dominance of females over males (Wybult, 2019).

Temporal changes are difficult to discern considering a significant imbalance in the number of identified sheep and goat bones between all three major phases of the settlement occupation. It is particularly low in the final Phase IIIB, which in addition it endured for more than a century (Racot IIIB-2) (Czerniak et al., 2016). Most of these bones originate from features dated to Phase IIIA and IIIB. Hence, the presented picture of the kill-off pattern most likely refers to these two phases of Late Lengyel settlement in Racot 18.

The pattern of consumption of sheep/goats at Racot 18 was revealed by contextual and taphonomic analysis of their bones, in particular body part representation and bone fragmentation (Marciniak, 2014a). Bone fragmentation is a by-product of animal butchering and marrow processing (Greenfield, 2000). The fragmentation of sheep/goats in the studied assemblage is considerable from 46.1 to 67.9%, the frequency of specimens representing less than a quarter of the bone (Figure 4). Due to a high degree of fragmentation, sheep and goats from internal pits from all three phases of the site’s occupation were characterised by a predominance of head/neck bones and bones of the vertebral column. However, most domestic pit assemblages are dominated by all anatomical segments, implying ordinary consumption practices by individual households. Simultaneously, sheep/goat bones indicative of marrow consumption were not deposited in loam pits but exclusively in internal and external pits.

Figure 4 
               Racot 18. Bone fragmentation of cattle, sheep/goat, and pigs from loam pits, phase IIA (x-axis represents completeness: 2 ≤ ¼ complete; 3 = ¼ – ½ complete; 4 = ½–¾ complete; 5 ≥ ¾ complete; 6 = almost complete; 7 = complete. BP, cattle; OC, domestic sheep and goats; SP, domestic pig) (after Marciniak, 2014a, Figure 9.3).

Figure 4

Racot 18. Bone fragmentation of cattle, sheep/goat, and pigs from loam pits, phase IIA (x-axis represents completeness: 2 ≤ ¼ complete; 3 = ¼ – ½ complete; 4 = ½–¾ complete; 5 ≥ ¾ complete; 6 = almost complete; 7 = complete. BP, cattle; OC, domestic sheep and goats; SP, domestic pig) (after Marciniak, 2014a, Figure 9.3).

Breakage patterns for long bones are considerably different between domestic and loam pits (Marciniak, 2014a). In loam pits, longitudinal breakage is dominant (50%) and is followed by perpendicular-irregular and oblique-irregular fractures (15.4%). Other categories of breakage are significantly less common (Figure 5). The breakage pattern is significantly different in domestic pits, especially in phases IIB and IIIA. The most common is longitudinal breakage (21.6–36.8%), followed by perpendicular-irregular (16.6–27%), and stepped (11.8–23%) fractures. The largest number of burned bones represents skulls and teeth (16 specimens), followed by metapodia. Long bones with burning marks are less numerous. Interestingly, as many as 41 specimens (83.7%) are charred or partly charred. The vast majority of burned sheep/goat bones come from domestic pits; none of them were found in loam pits, believed to dug out for extraction of clay, usually the long walls of longhouses. Out of only 12 cut marks and 7 chop marks, most of them were chopped in the mid-shaft (mainly radii and humeri). However, there are also some bones with cut and chop marks on their joints.

Figure 5 
               Racot 18. Frequency of fracture types for cattle, sheep/goat, and pigs from loam pits, phase IIA. (1: stepped; 2: jagged; 3: perpendicular irregular; 4: oblique irregular; 5: perpendicular regular; 6: oblique regular; 7: spiral irregular; 8: spiral regular; 9: channelled; 10: longitudinal. Note: categories 2, 7, and 9 are not represented in this figure) (after Marciniak, 2014a, Figure 9.6.).

Figure 5

Racot 18. Frequency of fracture types for cattle, sheep/goat, and pigs from loam pits, phase IIA. (1: stepped; 2: jagged; 3: perpendicular irregular; 4: oblique irregular; 5: perpendicular regular; 6: oblique regular; 7: spiral irregular; 8: spiral regular; 9: channelled; 10: longitudinal. Note: categories 2, 7, and 9 are not represented in this figure) (after Marciniak, 2014a, Figure 9.6.).

The taphonomic analysis revealed that sheep/goat marrow was of domestic character and was consumed inside the house, and its remains were dumped in domestic pits (Marciniak, 2014a). The distribution of bone breakage and burning across the settlement provides insights into cooking practices at the settlement. The breakage pattern is significantly different in domestic pits. The composition of fractures of sheep/goat bones is characterised by a high frequency of stepped and perpendicular fractures indicative of roasted-marrow consumption. The considerable number of perpendicular and oblique fractures further implies that numerous bones were broken while dry. Sheep/goat bones were mainly charred, implying bones were defleshed or partly defleshed while exposed to fire (Lyman, 1994, p. 387). Such burning is not present in loam pits.

6 Exploiting Sheep and Goats and their Products at the Late Lengyel Settlement in Racot 18 and Changes in Animal Husbandry in the Neolithic of the Polish Lowlands

The high number of cattle bones in faunal assemblages from the Early Neolithic north of the Alps implies the dominance of cattle in the early-life farmers and the presence of cattle-based agriculture (e.g., Gillis et al., 2017; Gron, Montgomery & Rowley-Conwy, 2015; Marciniak, 2020). The introduction and spread of cattle-based agriculture and its further development by the Neolithic farmers of the North European Plain comprise one of the major constituent elements of the Neolithisation of Central Europe. Cattle were managed for both milk and meat production (Gillis et al., 2017; Salque et al., 2013). They played an important role as a consumable product and were an investment as part of a long-term strategy. They were also used for ceremonial purposes. The dual-purpose role of cattle made it easier to adapt to different environments (Marciniak, 2020).

As the number of caprine remains from the Early Neolithic sites in the region north of the Alps was significantly lower, and since both species were arguably less suited for the climatic and environmental conditions of temperate Europe, they were regarded as unimportant and hence studied to a lesser extent. The growing importance of sheep and goats in agriculture in the period following the incipient farming by the first Neolithic settlers was indicated by a significant increase in the number of their bones at the expense of cattle. This is evident at the Osłonki settlement in eastern Kuyavia, where sheep and goat remains are similar to cattle and account for approximately 35% of the assemblage (Bogucki, 2008). It is a very similar situation to Racot 18 where caprines reached more than 31% and they were only slightly outnumbered by cattle. This pattern corresponds well with the frequency of sheep/goats in other settlements in the region, ranging between 20 and 40% (Bogucki, 2008).

Considering difficulties in discriminating sheep and goats, as well as the aforementioned limitations of both morphological and metrical methods, most of the caprine material is usually assigned to the indeterminate sheep/goat category. Hence, the results of recent work at Racot 18 (Gron et al., 2020) offer unique opportunities to examine similarities and differences in the role of sheep and goats in Neolithic agriculture. The proportion between both species is pretty even and amounts to ca. 3:2.5. However, these proportions differ in subsequent chronological phases. In the IIIA phase, most remains (average ratio of 2.5: 1) belong to goats, while a reverse situation was discerned in the IIIB phase, with the majority of remains belonging to sheep (average ratio of 2:1). A lack of comparative data from contemporaneous sites from the region does not allow more in-depth assessment of the significance of these even proportions between sheep and goats at the Racot 18 settlement, or more importantly, differences between them in subsequent phases and the dominance of goats in one of them. The ratio between sheep and goats from Racot 18 differs considerably from the central Balkans from the Middle Neolithic to the Early Iron Age. The analysis of faunal assemblages from eleven sites from this region revealed a definite dominance of sheep over goats (average of 5:1 ratio) (Greenfield & Arnold, 2015).

As no stable isotope analysis of faunal material from Racot 18 has yet been conducted, the reconstruction of husbandry practices is rather tentative. A restricted breeding season for sheep has been clearly demonstrated in prehistoric Europe, with lambing occurring over a three- to four-month period from late winter to early summer (Balasse et al., 2020). Farm mammals have inherited remnants of a seasonal reproduction strategy from their wild ancestors (Ortavant, Pelletier, Ravault, Thimonier, & Volland-Nail, 1985). By providing protection against environmental constraints, domestication led to the attenuation of some of the physiological expressions of seasonality, but to varying extents among species (Chemineau et al., 2008). The study of the sequential δ18O curves from the second and third caprine molars at the Late Lengyel site in Kopydłowo, on the border between Greater Poland and Kuyavia, corroborates this observation (Marciniak et al., 2017).

The caprine kill-off patterns from Racot 18 revealed a dominance of animals between 1 and 2 years of age as well as those from 2 later age categories. This indicates that caprines were managed for both milk and meat production. As domestic sheep and goats in temperate latitudes still express genuine periodic anoestrus (Chemineau et al., 2008), it is to be expected that the seasonal availability of animal products, in particular milk, will vary throughout the year and from year to year (Balasse et al., 2020).

Very preliminary results from Racot indicate a dominance of sheep slaughtered in the older age categories, while goats in age category C and higher dominated over the sheep in the youngest age category. This implies that sheep rather than goats were exploited for secondary products, including milk and/or wool. However, there is no reason to rule out that goats as well as cattle were also exploited for their milk. Differences in the exploitation of sheep and goats are also reported from the beginnings of the Neolithic in SE Europe. Age-at-death profiles revealed that most goats were culled when older, and therefore, goats were believed to be more intensively exploited for milk long before cattle and sheep (Greenfield & Arnold, 2015). However, these tentative conclusions from Racot 18 are not corroborated by lipid analysis from bowls, an amphora, and an S-profile pot from the Kopydłowo settlement, which revealed exclusively ruminant carcass fat and no dairy fats (Roffet-Salque & Evershed, 2015).

Caprines were also consumed for marrow. The fracture analysis on caprine bones shows that marrow was an important part of the diet at Racot 18. Considering a moderate degree of fragmentation, marrow resources were not exploited intensively to their full nutritional potential. This is particularly evident in later phases IIIA and IIIB, where the predominant species consumed for marrow was almost exclusively caprines. This differs from the IIB phase, which contained remains of marrow consumption for both cattle and sheep/goats. It is also worth noting a spatially distinct pattern of deposition of these remains that may be indicative of different eating practices. In the IIB phase, remains of marrow consumption for cattle and sheep/goats were deposited in both loam and domestic pits. In later phases, the dominant species consumed for marrow was almost exclusively sheep/goats, and the remains of sheep/goat marrow consumption were dumped in internal pits. This consumption may have been of a domestic character. Interestingly, sheep/goat bones indicative of marrow consumption were not deposited in loam pits but exclusively in internal and external pits.

Although the predominant view is one of sheep and goat husbandry as a relatively simple affair focused on the production of meat through the slaughter of young adult animals, preliminary results of analysis from Racot 18 indicate a complex system that included the use of specialised harvesting strategies and the exploitation of different food resources, including meat and marrow, and secondary products, most likely milk and wool. The management strategies in subsequent phases of the settlement occupation were variously tuned for sheep and goats in terms of the production of meat, marrow, and dairy. However, teasing out the relations between bone fat exploitation, use of dairy fats and intensity of meat consumption are difficult due to dearth of corresponding studies in European Neolithic contexts (Johnson, Timpson, Thomas, & Outram, 2018). Despite these difficulties, this study implies that a re-evaluation of the role of caprine husbandry in Late Lengyel subsistence and economy is necessary. It well illustrates the shift from cattle-based agriculture in the LBK to more balanced agriculture toward the end of the Danubian cultures and beyond, with sheep and goat-based economy being of considerable significance. This initial examination of sheep and goat husbandry at Racot 18 suggests that cultural practices and their dynamic changes throughout the occupation of the settlement played an important role in shaping management practices. The faunal assemblage from Racot 18 has a significant role to play in scrutinizing the details of differences in exploiting sheep and goats and paves the way for further work as new methods and techniques are applied more widely on contemporaneous assemblages.


What is New in the Neolithic? – A Special Issue Dedicated to Lech Czerniak, edited by Joanna Pyzel, Katarzyna Inga Michalak & Marek Z. Barański.


  1. Funding information: Authors state no funding involved.

  2. Conflict of interest: Author states no conflict of interest.

  3. Data availability statement: The datasets generated during and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

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Received: 2021-03-30
Revised: 2022-04-14
Accepted: 2022-04-15
Published Online: 2022-06-17

© 2022 Arkadiusz Marciniak, published by De Gruyter

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.