Calving seasonality at Pool, Orkney during the first millennium AD: an investigation using intra-tooth isotope ratio analysis of cattle molar enamel

Jacqueline Towers, Ingrid Mainland, Julie Bond, Janet Montgomery

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5 Citations (Scopus)


The identification of dairying is essential if we are to understand economies of the past, particularly in northwest Europe, where a high degree of lactose tolerance suggests that fresh milk has long been a significant food product. This paper explores a possible link between economic focus and seasonality of calving. Although cattle (Bos taurus) can breed throughout the year, animals living in temperate regions with minimal or no human management tend to breed seasonally, their breeding behaviour being strongly influenced by the availability of food. In order to achieve a year-round supply of fresh milk in the past, it is likely that multiple-season calving was necessary, which would have required additional husbandry effort. Alternatively, for meat-focussed economies or those based on storable dairy products, a strategy of single-season calving in spring may have been favoured to maximise the utilisation of spring and summer vegetation. Cattle birth seasonality is investigated through isotope ratio analysis (δ18O, δ13C) of tooth enamel. Results for cattle from Pool, Orkney dating to the latter part of the first millennium AD suggest that calving occurred during at least three seasons implying that the continuous provision of fresh milk was of economic importance.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)40-55
Number of pages16
JournalEnvironmental Archaeology
Issue number1
Early online date6 Jan 2016
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 6 Jan 2016



  • cattle
  • birth
  • seasonality
  • dairying
  • fresh milk
  • carbon and oxygen stable isotopes
  • tooth enamel
  • orkney

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