University of Leicester
2022BattermannNPhD.pdf (9.87 MB)

Revealing Reynard: a 12,000-year cultural biography of human-fox interactions

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posted on 2022-02-17, 22:57 authored by Nora M. Battermann
The red fox (Vulpes vulpes L. 1758) is one of the largest wild carnivores in England. It is a familiar animal that is associated with ‘slyness’ and ‘cleverness’ in general linguistic usage and evokes strong positive and negative emotional responses. This thesis presents the first holistic study of the long-term history of human-fox interactions in England from the Mesolithic to the Modern period (ending in 1950). Situated within the ‘animal turn’ and placing a focus on zooarchaeological material, I take an interdisciplinary approach to understand how relationships between humans and foxes changed through time. Specifically, I ask whether changing ideas and social phenomena (such as domestication, Christianity and urbanisation) influenced perceptions of the red fox in England and whether a deep-time understanding of our relationships with foxes can inform understanding of contemporary human-fox relationships. To answer these questions, published zooarchaeological evidence and historical sources from England were collated and analysed, and supplemented by primary analysis of zooarchaeological material from Roman sites. Integration of these three strands of evidence highlights a greater complexity of human-fox relationships than has hitherto been acknowledged in zooarchaeological interpretations. While foxes had a diverse significance in all periods, a few key changes through time can be charted: the frequency of foxes occurring in archaeological assemblages decreases through time; their significance within medicine declines in the Early Modern period; and their value as a hunting target for sport increases. Significant continuities include the perception of the fox as ‘sly’ and ‘cunning’ as well its inedibility. Their significance as a fur-bearing animal, often highlighted in zooarchaeological interpretations, could not be confirmed.



Richard Thomas; Hannah O’Regan

Date of award


Author affiliation

School of Archaeology and Ancient History

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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