University of Leicester
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Tales from The Ontological Tern: an examination of the role and meaning of faunal remains in the Neolithic long barrows of Wiltshire

posted on 2018-09-24, 08:01 authored by Emily Julia Banfield
Previous interpretations of Neolithic long barrow faunal deposits have commonly understood animals either in functionalist, economically determinist terms as resources for human exploitation, or as symbolic currency within human cosmologies, both approaches underpinned by an anthropocentric worldview. This is arguably unsurprising given that the same perspective has also informed the development of the zooarchaeological practices traditionally employed for their investigation, and is manifest in the standard suite of analyses deployed, analyses that seek to find evidence for such exploitation. That these perspectives are historically situated has remained largely unrecognised and undertheorized. This research explores human-animal relationships presenced in eight Neolithic long barrows in the modern county of Wiltshire from an expressly posthuman position that understands phenomena to be relationally emergent within assemblages, drawing on the work of Bennett (2010), DeLanda (2006), Deleuze and Guattari (2004), and Haraway (1991; 2008). Assemblages are multiple, multi-scalar, transient gatherings, transgressive of corporeal boundaries to permit the incorporation and consequent transformation of diverse phenomena. Multiple long barrow assemblages are analysed: the osseous material, using the standard suites of techniques for animal bone, which in accordance with the posthumanist remit includes human bone; and the depositional assemblages, with a focus on materiality and working at and across different geographic and temporal resolutions, drawing together both documentary and archive data through a range of spatial analytics including Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Established approaches are thus not discarded, but are augmented through assemblage with others. A diversity of human-animal relations are uncovered to reveal new understandings of the roles and meanings of faunal deposits in long barrow assemblages and of the long barrows themselves, permitting exploration of past ontologies. The strength of this approach lies in the space it creates for difference to emerge, confirming its potential value as a means for exploring the more-than-human past.



Thomas, Richard; Harris, Oliver

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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