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Restricted pasturing of domesticated cattle at a Late Neolithic settlement in Central Germany

Winter-Schuh, Christine, Schmütz, Kay, Eberle, Nils, Makarewicz, Cheryl A.
Journal of archaeological science: Reports 2018 v.22 pp. 285-297
archaeology, carbon, cattle, cattle husbandry, floodplains, grazing, growing season, herding, ingestion, isotopes, management systems, meat production, oxygen, strontium, stubble, tooth enamel, Central European region, Germany
Domestic cattle (Bos taurus) were one of the most important animal resources exploited by farming communities throughout the Neolithic period in Central Europe. However, little is currently known about cattle husbandry practices in use for Late Neolithic communities located in Central Germany. Here, we present new zooarchaeological and isotopic data in order to better understand cattle management strategies used during the late fourth and early third millennia BCE at the Late Neolithic Bernburg settlement of Hundisburg-Olbetal in Central Germany. Strontium isotope values of cattle tooth enamel reveal that these animals were most likely herded on local pastures. The overall range of carbon isotope values of sequentially sampled cattle teeth suggests the ingestion of graze that grew in open C3-environments all year round. Furthermore, the observed temporal offset between maximum carbon and oxygen isotope values most likely reflect a herding strategy where cattle grazed on open pastures in the floodplains during the growing season and were possibly kept near the settlement on stubble fields after harvest. Altogether, these data indicate Late Neolithic cattle management systems at the Bernburg settlement of Hundibsurg-Olbetal were small in scale and likely focused on meat production for household subsistence.