This report contains an assessment of the faunal remains from the excavation. The report was written by Kevin Reilly of PCA, but has been edited for web by Chaz Morse and Guy Hunt. For a full index of the assessment reports, please see the assessment report index.

Summary of archive

Class Quantity
Faunal Remains 6506 Fragments of animal bone


Animal bones were recovered throughout all levels, although in particular within the late Medieval/early post Medieval quarry pits. The available evidence can be compared to assemblages recovered from a number of contemporary sites in this general area, including, from the Roman era, those from a collection of cemetery sites (Barber and Bowsher 2000). Comparable post Medieval assemblages have been recovered from a number of extra-mural sites, including a concentration in the Whitechapel to Spitalfields area (see Rielly in prep a and Sygrave 2005). A notable feature of these sites, as at Prescot Street, was the recovery of horncore-lined pits, these dating to the late 17th and 18th centuries. The use of cattle horncores for building purposes clearly coincides with the establishment, in the 17th century, and later spread of the Horners industry in this part of east London, originally centred on Petticoat Lane (Yeomans 2004).

This assessment features a description of the bones recovered from the latest excavations as well as those from a previous incursion (Rielly 2008). Bones were principally recovered at each of these excavations by hand although a number of samples were also taken. The bone collections appear to have suffered only minimal fragmentation and, apart from a small selection of contexts (see below), tend to be well preserved.


The assessment of the bones has followed two methods, following the MoLAS approach regarding the earlier collection (Rielly 2008) and then a more detailed method concerning the later and larger collections. The first method involves noting major characteristics of each context assemblage, in terms of number and weight of bones and then noting the quantity of fragments which can be aged and measured, culminating with a species list featuring the representation of the major body parts, divided into head, vertebrae, upper and lower forelimb and hindlimb, and feet. The PCA approach favours a full record of the site assemblage at the assessment stage. However, it was not possible to fully realise this approach with the Prescot Street material, essentially due to time constraints. Thus, information was recorded according to four main headings i.e. species, sex, age (dividing between epiphysis fusion and teeth eruption/wear) and size.

Bones were separated into identified and unidentified, the latter including vertebrae and ribs and various indeterminate fragments. Counts were made of the bones of identifiable species. The ageable bones include the mandibles, recorded following the procedure devised by Grant(1982), and those limb bones with epiphyseal ends. The latter were separated into groups according to the age of fusion, resulting in summed totals of bones within the neonate, early, intermediate and late fused categories. These include:- neonate – metapodial P (proximal); Early – scapula P, humerus D (distal), radius P, pelvis acetabulum and 1st phalange P; Intermediate – tibia D and metapodial D; and Late – humerus P, ulna P, radius D, femur P and D, tibia P and calcaneus P. The recording of size essentially depends on the measurement of particular dimensions, as described in von den Driesch (1976).

Measurable bones essentially include the majority that can be classed as deriving from an adult individual. This includes complete limb bones, mandibles where the adult third molar is in wear and various limb bones with fused intermediate and/or late epiphyses e.g. distal tibia and proximal femur respectively. Approximate ages for the tooth eruption and epiphyses fusion sequences are taken from Schmid (1972, 75 and 77) and Amorosi(1989, 98 and 99). In addition to these major headings, notes were taken concerning any obvious skeletal part concentrations e.g. head and foot bones, which could signify butchers waste, as well as any articulated parts. Butchery, pathology and other modifications were also briefly mentioned in these notes. Finally, the description of the horncores is based on the work of Armitage (1982a).

Description of faunal assemblage by phase

The site provided 6,506 hand collected fragments of which 3,695 were identifiable to species or species group. The site has been provisionally divided into 8 stratigraphic units, as follows: – Natural, Pre-Roman, Roman I (R1), Roman II (R2), Early post Medieval (EPM), post Medieval soils (PM soils), Late post Medieval (LPM) and Modern. No bones were found in the earlier two phases or the latest phase. The Roman strata has clearly been divided into pre-cemetery (R1) and cemetery (R2) levels. The dating for EPM is approximately late 15th to 17th, PM soils is 17th and LPM is late 17th to 19th centuries. Most of the LPM bones appear to predate the further development of this area in the 19th century.


Animal bones were retrieved from each of the Roman phases, with the majority from the later phase (R2). The earlier phase assemblage was largely derived from the aforementioned quarry pits and associated features, while the R2 collection was taken from a combination of pitfills and various layers, with a minor component taken from graves and cremations. The R1 and R2 collections were provided by a large number of contexts, where only 8 out of 179 contexts produced more than 5 bones, while none exceeded 10 fragments. This general scatter of bones is relatively typical of cemetery sites around the city. The depositional history undoubtedly involved the systematic disturbance of refuse dumps as this extra mural location was transformed from an open area into a cemetery. Redeposition is clearly shown by the presence of human bone fragments within several R2 levels. The presence of such bones in R1 deposits may suggest that graves were being dug in adjacent areas predating the R2 cemetery. Movement of collections is also shown by the greater number of fragmented and moderate to poorly preserved collections in the Roman phases compared to those from the later levels.

The great majority of the identifiable bones in the R1 and R2 assemblages belong to cattle, sheep/goat and pig. Though cattle is clearly the best represented throughout, sheep/goat are almost as abundant numerically in the early phase. This good representation of sheep/goat is rather unusual amongst City sites dated to the first two centuries of Roman rule. In fact, most sites, dated to this period, are closer to the major domesticate pattern shown by the R2 collections.
Following the Romanized diet from the outset (essentially based on beef, after King 1984), the small number of exceptions has been interpreted as potential continuation of pre-Roman dietary preferences, as for example shown by the 1st century phase at 2-12 Gresham Street (Rielly in prep b). While the same interpretation could be applied to the R1 assemblage, the general rarity of this species pattern, plus the probable continuation of this material into the 2nd century, may be indicative of a local phenomenon.

A selection of cemetery sites in this area featured bone assemblages with a wealth of sheep-size bones. Such bones could be either sheep/goat or pig, but it was suggested that these may have represented the waste from graveside feasting (Barber and Bowsher 2000, 79). Now R1 apparently predates the cemetery, although a number of human bones amongst the R1 deposits may suggest otherwise. However, it could be tentatively suggested that the excess of sheep/goat bones may have some connection with this activity. The decline in sheep/goat abundance in the cemetery phase (R2) perhaps argues against this conclusion, but this does not completely detract from a potential association between this species and some aspect of cemetery usage.
The species abundance within the R2 grave collections (regarding the mammalian domesticates, poultry and game) didn’t show any obvious differences to those from the other features in this phase. In addition, there were no obvious concentrations of any particular type of waste, rather, these collections were typical of the R1 and R2 assemblages, featuring a general spread of processing and meat waste.

Various game species are commonly found on other Roman sites, but there does appear to be a particular good representation at this site. Yet, two of these species, fallow deer and rabbit, are generally considered to be Norman rather than Roman introductions to this country. The rabbit bones were found in: – R1 – pitfill (1874), with 2 bones (humerus and ulna) and pit fill (774), with 4 bones (mandible, pelvis and 2 tibias); and in R2 – pitfills (1564) and (1695), pit fill (2003) and cremation (1526), all with single bones. The (1874) examples are undoubtedly residual, as the same deposit provided ceramic pipe stems. In addition, this deposit immediately underlies the LPM pit (1895).

A similar residual argument can be broached for the (1694) example, as this deposit was directly below modern levels. However, all of the others appear to be well stratified within their respective Roman phases. The fallow deer bones were found in:- R1 – (708) in pit [710](a metacarpus) and R2 – pits (846) and (2013), with a tibia and a complete metatarsus respectively. In addition a roe deer metatarsus from pitfill (720) in R1 is perhaps closer to fallow deer in size. All of these deposits appear to be well stratified. It is well known that rabbit is a burrower and its presence in these lower horizons may be through its own volition. However, rabbit bones have been found at other Roman sites in Britain and it is conceivable that there was an attempt to introduce this species during this era.
The same could be said of the fallow deer, except that a recent study (Sykes 2004), has demonstrated that most of those found on Roman sites have either been misidentified or, as here, are principally represented by foot bones. This has raised the possibility that fallow deer is chiefly represented in this country by imported skins rather than introduced live animals.
Both phases also produced a reasonable quantity of equid remains. This is typical of cemetery sites, with these remains often represented by a mix of single bones and partial articulations. These have been interpreted as the redeposited remains of carcasses originally dumped in this area, no doubt derived from the City. Only rarely can these remains be attributed a ritual connotation, as for example the combined horse, red deer and dog burial from 49-59 Mansell Street (Barber and Bowsher 2000, 79). There was a single equid articulation from the R2 pitfill (1744) which featured a relatively complete skull associated with three cervical vertebrae. A rather unusual find, which could perhaps be defined as an oddity rather than ritual, was an equid first phalange from layer (1828) in R2, which appears to have been painted a red colour on the proximal surface.
The earlier excavations provided just 8 bones from the Roman levels, all taken from the cemetery levels (R2). The small size of these fragments as well as the poor to moderate condition confirms the noted level of redeposition. The identifiable portion consists of a few cattle and pig fragments, plus one equid tooth.

Early post-medieval (EPM)

In sharp contrast to the previous phased collections, the early post Medieval collection was recovered from a small number of deposits, just 29, with the great majority of the bones arising from large cut features. Notable examples include the 839 bones retrieved from the quarry pit [639] as well as 554 from pit [576], 495 from pit [574], 464 from pit [1015] and 215 from cut [672]. The pits and the pitfills are variously dated between the late 15th and 17th centuries, the earlier date applying to the lowest fill (642) of pit [639] and the later to the fills of [574] and [576]. This difference in date may account for the clear difference in the proportions of the major domesticates between these features. While there is an overall wealth of cattle, [639] provided approximate percentages of 46, 52 and 2 for cattle, sheep/goat and pig, compared to an average 56, 36 and 8 from the other aforementioned feature assemblages. The largest proportion of sheep/goat, at 44, 55 and 1, was provided by the fill (642) in pit [639].

This evidence may point to a diminishment in sheep/goat usage by the latter part of this phase. However, the [639] sheep/goat collection does feature a large proportion of head, mainly horncores, and feet parts. A large proportion of the latter parts are from juvenile individuals. Concentrations of head and feet could signify butchers waste, while the abundance of juvenile metapodials may represent tawyers waste, perhaps from a skin processor specialising in lambskin. The greater abundance of sheep/goat in the earlier part of this phase may therefore relate more to craft use than meat preference/availability. The cattle collections, in contrast, show a broad distribution of skeletal parts throughout these features. A large proportion of these show some degree of butchery, with a few heavily chopped relatively complete skulls, taken from the 17th century pits [574] and [576]. The cut marks on these items follow a butchery trend noticed at a number of contemporary sites within this general locality. These skulls feature a series of cleaver cuts to both the left and right sides from approximately the anterior orbit to the nuchal area (adjacent to the horncores), grazing the lateral/dorsal orbit, removing the post-orbital processes, zygomatic arches and the temporal condyles. Similar butchery has been found at 16th century levels at 27-29 Whitechapel High Street and 103-106 Shoreditch High Street (Rielly 2003 and 2010).

As well as lambs, there is also an abundance of veal, although in this case it can be assumed they represent food rather than craft waste. Other food species include a large proportion of poultry, mainly chicken and goose, as well as some game animals and birds. There is obviously a high class element within these waste dumps, in particular referring to the deer remains, plus the juvenile swan from pitfill (659) and the sturgeon skute from pit [639].

Another pit,[574], provided the cleithrum of a large haddock. This may have been an expensive item as it would have represented an import from a northern port, the habitat of this species not extending down into the southern North Sea.

The non-food species include equid and cat, the latter mainly provided by the remains of at least three adult individuals from pit [576]. These remains were devoid of head and foot bones, and could therefore represent discarded carcasses following the removal of the skins. Cat fur was rather popular during the Tudor period, when it was used essentially for trimmings i.e. collars and cuffs etc (Serjeantson 1989, 132).

Finally, there is some information on the possible ‘types’ of cattle and sheep represented. The cattle bones from [576] were noticeably larger than those from other levels. There is a nationwide trend towards larger cattle starting from the 16th century, which may relate to either improvements in stock management or the introduction of larger ‘types’ (Davis 1987, 178). The greater size of a portion of the cattle from the EPM levels would appear to follow this general pattern. In contrast, the sheep tend to be no larger than the typical Medieval varieties. However, while the majority of these are clearly horned (both sexes), a single polled example was found in a [639] fill. This could represent either an atypical ewe, notably certain older ‘types’ as the Soay, do occasionally have polled ewes. Otherwise it could be one of the polled varieties which have been exploited in Britain since at least the Medieval period (see Armitage and Goodall 1977).

An estimated total of 115 fragments were retrieved from the evaluation, essentially taken from pit [102] and ditch [314]. A further 440 fragments were provided by the sample contents of these features. The hand collected bones are mainly composed of the major domesticates and poultry, while the latter species group as well as fish (yet to be identified) formed most of the sample assemblages. In common with the other EPM bones, there is a general spread of major domesticate skeletal parts.

Post Medieval soils

This small assemblage was recovered from just 4 deposits, each with no more than 2 bones. These provided a few sheep/goat, equid and cattle fragments.

Late Post Medieval (LPM)

This assemblage was provided by 65 contexts, the great majority arising from the 47 cut features. There is a considerably greater spread of bones compared to the last phase, with a notably larger number of features and without any major concentrations. However, there are a few reasonable sized assemblages, in particular the 118 bones from drain fill {1342}, and the 105 and 159 bones from pits [557] and (589) respectively.

The various collections feature a wealth of general food refuse alongside both major and minor quantities of craft waste. Within the latter category there are the copious quantities of cattle horncores which provided the lining of pits {513}, {593}, {1089} and {1587}. It is unfortunate that so few of these horncores could be kept for further study, these amounting to just 10 from the lining of {513} with a further 4 recovered from the fill. No horncores were kept from the other three pits. Of interest is the small quantity of bones provided by the fills of these features with the exception of {513}, with 69 fragments, compared to just 13 from {593}, 26 from {1089} and 18 from {1587}. The low counts may be indicative of a rather rapid backfilling following the demise of their principal usage, perhaps as soakaways.
It can be assumed that these horncores represent waste from hornworking activities. There was a concentration of horners based essentially in Petticoat Lane in the 17th century, expanding up towards Spitalfields by the mid 18th century (Yeomans 2004, 79 and 2008, 132).

Evidence for this source is provided by saw marks found on several of these cores, in particular those from (516). Of interest is the removal of the tips of the cores. This had taken place in 6 out of the 10 cores from (516). There may have been more but only these 6 were sufficiently complete to suggest whether this butchery had taken place. The removal of the tip may have aided the separation of the hornsheaf from the core although a more common practise would have been to soften the connective tissues either by soaking the horn or simply allowing it to rot for a certain length of time (Armitage 1982b). The tips of the horns were far less useful than the thin walled shaft which would then be rolled flat, ready to be made into various items, including lantern lieves.

An alternative explanation for this cut is provided by the late 17th century regulations at Smithfield Market which required all cattle to have ‘two inches or more cut off their further (meaning ‘right’) horn’ in order to prevent ‘buying to sell again in the same market’ (McGrath 1948, 158 in West 1995, 32).

The horncores from {513} include two possible Short/Medium Horned examples (lengths of 100 to 360mm) and one Long Horned core (length greater than 360mm). These size categories have been extrapolated from the basal dimensions, following the method described in West (1995, 28). The Large Horned type is typical of a form, the unimproved longhorn, which is typically prevalent at London sites during the 18th century (Armitage 1982a).

One of the horncore-lined pits provided further evidence for craft activities. Pit {1587} produced a small collection of cattle footbones, comprising 8 complete metacarpals. Each one had a hole drilled through the medial half of the proximal end. Yeomans (2006) has suggested that these bones are likely to represent tanning waste, essentially due to the fact that they’re generally found on tanning sites or at least in the area of tanning works (see also Rielly in prep c ).

The tanning industry in London at this time was based in Bermondsey and numerous sites in this area have provided examples of drilled cattle metacarpals. A far smaller concentration of tanneries where in use during the 17th and 18th centuries along the north bank of the Thames, based in particular at Wapping and Ratcliffe. However, to date, the examples from Prescot Street form one of only two finds of this type discovered on this side of the river. The other example, a single metacarpus was retrieved from a 16th century pit at Sans Walk, Clerkenwell (data taken from MoLA archives). None were found for example within the large bone assemblage from the Royal Navy Victualling Yard, which otherwise turned up an abundance of craft waste (West 1995) or indeed from a variety of contemporary sites just beyond the eastern city wall (Armitage 1982b).

The distance between Prescot Street and the river may preclude these metacarpals simply representing a dump of tanning waste. One possibility is that they may have been used, as the cattle horncores, for some constructional purpose. A large number of cattle metapodials, including several drilled metacarpals, were found at Lant Street, somewhat to the west and north of the main Bermondsey tanneries (Hooper 2003 in Rielly in prep c). These apparently formed the disturbed remains of a knuckle-bone floor. A noticeable feature of the Prescot Street metacarpals is that all were heavily eroded at the distal end. It is conceivable that these had also been used to construct a floor with, as is usual in such constructions, the distal ends uppermost ( see Armitage 1989).

There is a rather similar major domesticate representation to that shown by the EPM levels. These percentages are clearly not unduly biased by the aforementioned ‘craft’ waste, with the great majority clearly derived from processing and consumer sources. The cattle collection does feature a number of skulls, but none show the ‘signature’ butchery described from the earlier levels. It is to be wondered if these have come from different butchers’ establishments or whether this form of butchery has been abandoned by this later period. Obviously, unlike the previous phase, it can be assumed that much of this waste was locally derived, principally from the adjacent households.

The various collections, again similar to EPM, included a wide range of food species, including a good representation of poultry, as well as a selection of game, including deer and rabbit. The historical evidence (see above) refers to the affluence of this newly developed area, which is undoubtedly shown by the presence of game, and deer in particular, as well as the abundance of veal.
Another telling feature of the bone collection is the presence of turkey. This species was introduced to Britain by the mid 16th century, whereupon it quickly superseded the previous large birds, as the swan and the peacock, used in celebratory meals (Wilson 1973, 129). Turkey bones were retrieved from the brick-lined soakaway {1683} and cut [1717], these providing 7 and 2 bones respectively.

While the dating evidence for individual deposits was not available at this stage, there are clear signs, from the bones, of the presence of very late 18th or early 19th century material. This is shown by the presence of particularly large cattle, with bones provided by pit [556] (an adult pelvis) and the brick soakaway {666} (a veal humerus). These are clearly derived from one or more of the ‘improved’ cattle types, the precursors of the modern breeds, which began to enter the London meat markets at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries (Rixson 2000, 215). Additionally, there are a few sawn food bones, namely a sheep tibia from the fill (594) of horncore-lined pit {593} and a cattle-size rib from pit {727}. The use of the saw for butchery purposes essentially dates to the latter part of the 18th century (see Albarella 2003, 74).

It was noted, above, that the cattle from this phase included the typical 18th century ‘type’, the unimproved longhorm. In addition to this information on the ‘types’ of domesticates represented, a particularly interesting find was recovered from ditch fill (1342). This was a sheep skull which was clearly from a four horned ‘type’. Very few skulls of this type have been retrieved from London sites, mainly dated from early Medieval levels, as the example recovered from the Guildhall (Bowsher et al 2007, 105). However, a 15th/16th century skull was retrieved from one of the London Bridge Jubilee Line Extension sites (Rielly 1997). It is assumed that the 4-horned breeds now present in Britain, the Manx Loughtan, Black Hebridean and Jacob, were originally developed from sheep imported by the Vikings (Henson 1982, 15).
There are relatively few bones from non-food animals. These include a dog skull from ditch/drain {1444}, representing an adult moderately sized individual and the partial remains of an adult cat from pit {1158}.

The site evaluation provided a total of 16 bones from 2 features, another horncore-lined pit [302] and a brick soakaway {301}. The latter feature produced a few cattle, pig and chicken fragments, while the pit assemblage was entirely composed of cattle skull fragments. In comparison to the other horncore-lined features, this pit did not produce the quantity of skull pieces which might have been expected. Instead, there are just 5 fragments, including 2 large horncores. Their size is comparable to the single large core from {513} (see above) further demonstrating the presence of typical 18th century cattle.

Conclusions and recommendations for further work

This site provided a large animal bone assemblage, with the greater part in good condition. Most of the bones were taken from the post Roman levels, which also tend to be better preserved. The potential value of any information gleaned from the Roman collections is obviously related to the level of disturbance, determining whether any valid comparisons can be made between the pre-cemetery and cemetery phases. While clearly redeposited, as shown in addition by the spread of disarticulated human bones in both phases, there are aspects of these collections which do appear to be worth further study.

An argument was made for some connection between the abundance of sheep/goat in the earlier phase and graveside feasting. This followed comparable information at a selection of east London cemetery sites (after Bruno and Barber 2000, 78). However, the fact that this data refers to the pre-cemetery levels as well as the poorer representation of this species in the later phase probably argues against any such relationship. Rather, this difference may show a change in meat use amongst the city populace responsible for the general refuse dumps making up the R1 and R2 collections.

It can probably be assumed, based on the evidence of adjacent sites (ibid, 300), that the cemetery at Prescot Street was established in the 2nd century. Now an abundance of sheep/goat is a rare occurrence amongst 1st and 2nd century City sites (Rielly 2006, 116) and it would therefore be of some interest to ascertain the actual date of the R1 deposits. The dating evidence will also be of importance concerning the evidence for Roman rabbits and fallow deer, which were apparently present throughout the occupation period. Both species have been found at other Roman sites, but there is as yet no clear evidence for a Roman introduction of either species, their presence being explained as intrusive or related to the import of skins rather than live animals (Sykes 2004).

The later levels offer a greater potential for further study, with information concerning food as well as craft usage. It can be seen that early compared to the later post Medieval levels feature a wider array of specialist waste, which is probably related to the use of this area for general dumping purposes prior to the late 17th century development of Prescot Street. The later deposits clearly coincide with this development and it can thus be assumed that a large proportion of the associated bone collections derive from the adjacent households.

The specialist waste in evidence from the earlier levels includes the cattle skulls with the ‘signature’ butchery, consisting of a series of chops to either side of the head. This is assumed to represent butchers waste and could represent a particular cut used by butchers in this general area. This method, however, was clearly short-lived as shown by the lack of evidence from 17th/18th century levels at this and contemporary sites (for example Rielly 2010). There are indications of tanning waste from both phases and clear evidence for hornworking in the later phase. Yeomans (2004, 80) has shown that tanners were in residence in Wapping throughout the 17th and much of the 18th centuries, these possibly supplying the sheep (and possibly the cat) and cattle tanning waste from the early and later phases respectively. The cattle horncore collections, essentially forming the linings to a number of 17th/18th century pits, clearly coincide with the establishment of several hornworkers in the Petticoat Lane area (ibid, 79-80).

There is a variety of food species in each of the post Medieval phases, with clear indications of affluence. This is certainly to be expected in the later phase when this development was essentially intended as an affluent quarter of the East End. No attempt has been made at this stage to gauge the proportion of good quality domesticate meats, either from an analysis of skeletal parts or the age distribution of the major domesticates. Both phases provided more than adequate quantities of cattle and sheep/goat bones, each with ample age data, to allow for valid comparisons. In addition, there were a large number of measured bones, several complete, which can be used to show whether there were any noticeable changes in size through time.

It has already been mentioned that some larger cattle were noticed in these collections, coinciding with the archaeologically known early post Medieval increase followed by the historically documented late 18th century improvements (Davis 1987 and Rixson 2000). Evidence concerning the ‘types’ of domesticates was also found, which will be compared to similar evidence from contemporary sites. The moderate to large quantities of fishbones supplied by the samples taken from the earlier excavations, clearly show that this species group was an important part of the local diet. The processing, sorting and recording of the remaining sample assemblages should add further data to this aspect of the analysis.

Following on from these conclusions it is recommended that the post Medieval collections are clearly worthy of further study, describing both the food and craft use of the various species represented and their association with the local populace just prior to and following the development of this area. Any conclusions will draw on evidence from a number of contemporary sites, from Spitalfields in the north to the Royal Navy Victualling Yard in the south (Rielly in prep a and West 1995). The analysis of the Roman levels would appear to be of some importance, particularly considering the sheep/goat abundance in the early phase and the presence of rabbit and fallow deer. However, the validity of further work will depend on a thorough review of the dating and stratigraphic evidence.