About the Project

The Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age (LBA-EIA, c. 900-600 BC) was a period of climatic deterioration and economic crisis that caused great social upheaval and saw far-reaching shifts in European society. The greatest upheaval was caused by the dissolution of long-standing European networks surrounding copper extraction, bronze production and artefact manufacture and exchange at a time when the climate was getting far wetter. During this period, society started to focus on agricultural intensification and communal feasting on a grand scale in southern Britain. It was initially a ‘feasting age’ rather than an Iron Age, with agricultural produce the new ‘currency’. These feasts led to a new archaeological site type known as midden – monumental mounds of material culture comprising tens of millions of artefacts dominated by animal bone and pottery.  Epicentres of activity are in Wiltshire and the Thames Valley. This signals the coming together of vast numbers of people and animals for feasts of a scale unparalleled in the British archaeological record. These feasts represent far more than just new ways of consuming, they signal deep-rooted social and economic change and are the lynchpins for the new networks that developed. FeastNet project explores these new networks at the end of the Bronze Age through systematic scientific analysis of the archaeological resource. The project explores material from six middens from Wiltshire (East Chisenbury, Potterne, All Cannings Cross, Stanton St. Bernard) and the Thames Valley (Runnymede, Wallingford).

Scientific methods in archaeology have progressed and now networks and patterns of mobility can be reconstructed to a much higher resolution than was previously possible. The project will employ five established isotope methods on fauna bone and teeth for identifying the origins of animals recovered from the midden sites. Strontium (87Sr/86Sr) and oxygen (δ18O) isotope analysis will provide geological and climatic signals for origins, whilst sulphur (δ34S) analysis will show whether individuals were raised in coastal, wetland or inland areas. Carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) isotope analysis will also reconstruct the husbandry and foddering regimes for animals at middens. This will include information on the type of plants consumed and the contribution of marine (e.g. seaweed or fish scraps for pigs) or animal protein in the diet (for pigs) and whether manured pastures, browse or pannage were used. The combination of diverse isotopes will allow the identification of non-local animals with greater confidence and possible origins will in some cases be posited.

Cattle mandible from Midden deposits
Dr Richard Madgwick demineralising samples for collagen extraction
Dr Angela Lamb undertaking continuous flow isotope ratio mass spectrometry (CF-IRMS)