Molecular and osteometric sexing of cattle metacarpals: a case study from 15th century AD Beja, Portugal
2012 (English)In: Journal of Archaeological Science, ISSN 0305-4403, E-ISSN 1095-9238, Vol. 39, no 5, 1445-1454 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
In the course of a zooarchaeological survey of Holocene sites in southern Portugal, a substantial size increase of cattle bones was noted following the Christian reconquista of the 11th-13th centuries AD. A size increase in the course of time within a lineage of domestic livestock is usually considered to represent animal improvement. However several other factors including sex may influence the average size of a sample of mammal bones - cattle exhibit considerable sexual size dimorphism, with bulls being larger than cows. A histogram of the distal widths of a large (n = 44) sample of cattle metacarpals from 15th century Beja (Alentejo, Portugal), revealed a bimodal distribution. It was assumed that the large measurements belonged to males and the small to females. In order to rule out the possibility of a post-Moslem change in the sex ratio of cattle, a sub-sample of 21 cattle metacarpals from Beja was selected and we used genetic markers to identify the sex of the animals to which these metacarpals belonged. The ancient DNA sex of all specimens agreed with the previously assumed sex as determined osteometrically. We conclude that the two nearly separated peaks for the metacarpal distal width measurements do indeed indicate sex. A similar bimodal distribution was obtained from another large but earlier sample of cattle metacarpals from Moslem Alcacova de Santarem (9th-12th century AD). Although these have not been molecularly sexed and since osteometric sexing has now been validated, we conclude that both small (female) and large (male) peaks are smaller than the 15th century ones and that there was an overall size increase or improvement of cattle in this region. Why the Christians improved cattle is unclear, but a selection for larger beeves for meat is one possibility as is the selection of more robust cattle for power. The spread of the quadrangular or chariot plough in Iberia is known to have occurred at this time. We then use the genetically sexed metacarpals to determine which measurements provide reasonable distinction between the sexes. Both the distal width (BFd; as already noted by Svensson et al., 2008; in Swedish medieval cattle) and the width of the lateral condyle (WCL) offer the best distinction. We also used them as a reference 'collection' to sex the medieval and post-medieval cattle metacarpals from Launceston Castle in England. This re-visit of the Launceston data corroborates other evidence indicating increased specialisation (milk and veal) in post-medieval cattle husbandry in England.
Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2012. Vol. 39, no 5, 1445-1454 p.
Osteometry, aDNA, Cattle improvement, Sexing
Archaeology Evolutionary Biology
IdentifiersURN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-173973DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2011.12.003ISI: 000301620900025OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-173973DiVA: diva2:526640