A contribution by Nisa Iduna Kirchengast

Animal bones, along with pottery fragments, are among the most common finds in archaeological excavations. They not only play an important role in reconstructing dietary habits, but also give us an insight into animal husbandry and breeding as well as into everyday life in past epochs.

Especially for the Roman period, the often rich archaeozoological finds allow us to discuss numerous questions about animal-human relationships and human behavior. Many written and pictorial representations also allow conclusions to be drawn about the crafts of the time, such as butchery and meat processing. Animal bone finds, which are often uncovered in large quantities especially in urban contexts, provide information as an important direct source about the use and keeping of animals in ancient everyday life, which, moreover, are not addressed in Roman texts and illustrations.

The large research field of archaeozoology

As a branch of bioarchaeology, archaeozoology deals with important topics and questions of human and environmental history. The term "archaeozoology", refers to the study of animal remains that come to light at archaeological sites, especially during excavations. This category of finds primarily includes animal bones, which are one of the most common groups of finds among archaeozoological material, but also shell fragments of mollusks and egg-laying species and, under certain preservation conditions, animal mummies, feathers or fur, leather and horn remains.

The goal in this research is to shed more light on the interaction of humans and animals and the consequences of this relationship for the environment. In addition to the species of animals used, it is possible to draw conclusions about slaughter practices or other economic uses of animals, but also partly reconstruct the appearance of the animals. However, these information possibilities of the animal bone finds are also dependent on various influences, for example, the state of preservation of the remains is of great importance. The smaller the bone fragments are, the smaller is possibly the information gain.

Archaeozoological research in Carnuntum

Although animal remains are one of the largest types of finds on excavations, they were not recognized as a significant source of knowledge until late. From the middle of the 19th century, the first studies of animal bones from archaeological sites were carried out. At this time, archaeozoological research gained importance, although it was still carried out only sporadically. From the 60s of the 20th century the number of studies increased significantly (also in Austria), from this time on archaeozoology established itself as an important part of archaeological research.

Also in Carnuntum records of animal bone finds from the middle of the 19th century are known, so at that time already remains of birds from a Mithras sanctuary are described. In addition to research on the military areas of Carnuntum, the investigation of archaeozoological finds from the civilian city has increasingly come to the fore in recent years. For example, parts of the Therme, the Weststraße as well as of "Haus 3" south of the Südstraße have already been investigated. Most recently, selected animal bone finds from "House 2", the house of Lucius, were examined in more detail.


Animal bone finds from the "House of Lucius

In the course of the last archaeozoological investigations in the area of Südstraße, animal bones were processed on the plot "House 2", better known as the House of Lucius. In this project, the focus was on the many different ways in which the archaeozoological find material could provide information on consumer behavior, i.e. the diet and use of animal raw materials, and the handling of animal waste products. The building parcel of "House 2" was almost completely excavated in the years 2003 to 2005 in the so-called "Spaziergarten" of the open-air museum Römerstadt Carnuntum. Five phases of use from the late 1st century to the beginning of the 5th century AD could be reconstructed. The area lies between the buildings "House 1" (house of the oil merchant) and "House 3" on the so-called Südstraße near the city limits in the south of the civil town and was used for both economic and residential purposes.

The analyzed bone finds show that to a large extent it was a matter of slaughter waste from the typical agricultural animals of the region in Roman times, especially from cattle, pigs and sheep. In addition to the usual domestic animal species, which also include dogs and equids, bone fragments of wild animals were also found, which in the case of "House 2" also include bear bones. The remains of these animals reveal insights into the use of animals as meat suppliers and the eating habits of the time: some bones show typical signs of slaughtering and cutting, which, among other things, testify to the production of smoked meat products and other culinary specialties. Thus, apparently, both selch ribs of beef and grilled beef mouths were consumed in the area of "House 2".

In addition to the typical slaughter and catering waste, indications of an economic further use of the animal carcasses were found: individual bone accumulations testify to possible horn processing and tanning activities, as well as potential production waste from a glue boiling plant. The animal bone finds also provide information about the waste behavior of the Romans and the habits of the time. A spatial analysis shows that larger quantities of animal waste, i.e. bones preserved in large pieces, such as extremities remaining in the bandage, were preferentially deposited near the street, while in the building area only smaller quantities of bone fragments were increasingly found.

Animal remains, together with the other finds in archaeological investigations, help us to gain an insight into the ancient way of life, be it dietary habits, be it the handling of waste - as was the case in the area of the South Street in the civil town of Carnuntum. Since the manifold potential for information is far from exhausted, future archaeozoological research can provide even more information on ancient everyday life.


Baier 2008
C. Baier, Frühe Baubefunde im Areal von Haus 2 der Zivilstadt Carnuntum, in: G. Grabherr – B. Kainrath (Hrsg.), Akten des 11. Österreichischen Archäologentages in Innsbruck. 23.–25. März 2006, IKARUS 3 (Innsbruck 2008) 27–36

Baier u. a. 2008
C. Baier – F. Humer – A. Konecny, Zivilstadt Carnuntum - Haus II. Die Grabungen im römischen Stadtviertel des Archäologischen Park Carnuntum in den Jahren 2003 – 2005, CarnuntumJb 2007, 2008, 177–230

Benecke 1994
N. Benecke, Der Mensch und seine Haustiere. Die Geschichte einer jahrtausendealten Beziehung (Stuttgart 1994)

Kirchengast 2019
N. I. Kirchengast, Tierknochen im Kontext. Eine befundorientierte Analyse von archäozoologischem Fundmaterial am Beispiel von „Haus 2“ in der Zivilstadt von Carnuntum (Universität Wien 2019)

O’Connor 2013
T. O’Connor, The Archaeology of Animal Bones (New York 2013) 425

Peters 1998
J. Peters, Römische Tierhaltung und Tierzucht. Eine Synthese aus archäozoologischer Untersuchung und schriftlich-bildlicher Überlieferung, Passauer Universitätsschriften zur Archäologie 5 (Rahden 1998)

Reitz – Wing 2008
E. J. Reitz – E. S. Wing, Zooarchaeology, Cambridge Manuals in Archaeology (New York 2008)

Schmitzberger 2009
M. Schmitzberger, Haus- und Jagdtiere im Neolithikum des österreichischen Donauraumes (Dissertation Universität Wien 2009)

von Sacken 1853
E. von Sacken, Über die neuesten Funde zu Carnuntum. Besonders über die Reste eines Mithraeums (Wien 1853)

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