Sheep castration in the medieval and modern periods in Europe: modalities, demographics and archaeological evidence

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  • Sheep castration in the medieval and modern periods in Europe: modalities, demographics and archaeological evidence

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Sheep castration in the medieval and modern periods in Europe: modalities, demographics and archaeological evidence

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Note: This presentation won 1st Place in the 2018 Junior Researcher Open Zooarchaeology Prize competition. 

Session: Social Networks and Animal Ageing and Sexing
 
Abstract: "There are no livestock species in which as many males are deprived of the parts essential to generation as among the beasts of wool", wrote Carlier in his 18th century treatise on sheep husbandry (Carlier, 1770, p.65). And indeed, both accounting documents and agricultural texts of the medieval and early modern periods testify to the quasi-systematic gelding of male lambs in sheep flocks: typically, rams represented less than 5% of the male population, which was overwhelmingly comprised of wethers. 
This fact - that that the vast majority of male sheep bones in historical archaeological samples actually stem from castrated animals - has perhaps been underestimated by zooarchaeologists. Compared to the extent of the practice, surprisingly little archaeological research has been devoted to the topic of sheep castration. It must be said that the skeletal identification of gelded animals is notoriously difficult: as far are we are aware, the presence of castrated sheep has never been undisputedly demonstrated in archaeological remains. 
This presentation aims to raise awareness of the omnipresence of wethers in medieval and modern European assemblages. The case-study of an unusual assemblage of 18 complete ovine skeletons dated to the 17th-18th from Achères (France) allows us to demonstrate, we believe conclusively, that all males of the sample were castrated. Expanding on this example, we explore through historical texts the how, the when and the why of sheep castration, and discuss the demography and sex-ratios of medieval and modern flocks.  

Keywords: sheep, castration, Middle Ages, Modern Period, Europe 

AUTHOR: Annelise Binois

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Annelise Binois

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Annelise Binois. "Sheep castration in the medieval and modern periods in Europe: modalities, demographics and archaeological evidence," in BoneCommons, Item #2035, https://alexandriaarchive.org/bonecommons/items/show/2035 (accessed December 14, 2019).

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