Toiling with teeth: An integrated dental analysis of sheep and cattle dentition in Iron Age and Viking-Late Norse Orkney

Nick Card, Ingrid Mainland, Jacqueline Towers, Vicki Ewens, Geoffrey Davis, Janet Montgomery, Colleen Batey, Jane Downes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)
68 Downloads (Pure)


A key goal for archaeozoology is to define and characterise pastoral farming strategies. In the last decade, some of the most innovative approaches for addressing these questions have centred on the mammalian dentition, including inter alia sequential sampling of stable isotopes, dental microwear analysis and the study of dental pathologies. It is when these techniques are integrated and combined with more traditional approaches, such as tooth eruption and wear, however, that their full potential is realised. In this article we demonstrate how such an integrated dental analysis combining isotopes, microwear, dental development, dental pathologies, tooth eruption and wear can be used to elucidate changing pastoral practices and their impacts on the landscape from the Iron Age and Viking-Late Norse periods in the North Atlantic islands, a period of significant socio-economic and cultural change in this region. Analysis focuses on two case study sites, Mine Howe, dating to the Atlantic Middle Iron Age (MIA) and the Earl's Bu, one of the residences of the Orkney Earl's from the 10th to 13/14th centuries AD. Each of the techniques applied to the sheep/goat and cattle dentition identifies clear differences between the two sites, in diet, in culling season, herd health and stress levels, all of which point to potential differences in underlying husbandry practices. These are related to wider socio-economic developments in Orkney at these periods, specifically increasing control of pastoral resources and economic production by North Atlantic elites in the MIA and the emergence of manorial estates in Late Norse/Early Medieval Scandinavia.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)837-855
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Early online date28 Dec 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2016


  • Palaeodiet
  • Dental microwear
  • Stable isotopes
  • Dental pathologies
  • Atlantic Iron Age
  • Norse Orkney
  • 15ref2021


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