Analysis of cattle bones sheds new light on Iron Age in Austria

13. February 2023
A new scientific study at the NHM Vienna has found that cattle from the Mediterranean region came to areas in present-day Austria as early as the Iron Age, between 450 BCE and the end of the first century BCE. The study’s results supply the first genetic evidence of cattle mobility and cattle imports from southern regions, shedding new light on socio-economic population structures in the Iron Age.
A total of 14 samples of cattle bones from the Iron Age were analysed for a large-scale archaeozoological study, supplying new insights into the presence and mobility of large-sized cattle during that period. Mandibula fragments (bones and teeth), metacarpals and tali found in Vienna, Lower Austria (Roseldorf) and Burgenland (Nickelsdorf, Bruckneudorf) between 1992 and 2011, and now housed in the archaeozoological collections of the Natural History Museum Vienna, were the subject of scientific analysis conducted over the past year by a research team headed by Dr. Konstantina Saliari, an archaeozoologist at the NHM Vienna. The research included measurement of the bones and macroscopic study (so-called morphometric observations) carried out at the NHM Vienna, as well as DNA analysis conducted at the Institute of Legal Medicine of the Medical University of Innsbruck.
Survey data on cattle bones from Roman period sites in present-day Austria suggest the presence of a population of large-sized cattle. Previously, it had been assumed that this population came with the Romans from the Mediterranean region.
However, recent documentation of bones from Late Iron Age sites yielded indications of much earlier imports. Based on the teeth and bones analysed, the study has provided the first evidence of two genetic groups from southern regions in present-day Austria north of the Alps, next to a common European group of cattle with a similar genetic profile, a so-called haplogroup. One of the two genetic groups (haplogroup T1) is common only in populations in southern Europe (Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal), while the other group (haplogroup T5) has been documented only in Italy and Croatia so far.
This means that large-sized cattle were imported from the Mediterranean region to areas north of the Alps in the Early Iron Age, long before the arrival of the Romans around 15 BCE.
The study marks the first time genetic evidence has been used to demonstrate mobility and imports of large-sized cattle over large distances. “Moreover, this new research shows the great potential of combining morphometric and archaeogenetic analysis of animal remains in order to shed light on the complex socio-economic structures and networks of past eras,” says Dr. Konstantina Saliari.
Link to the publication in “Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports”:
© NHM Wien
© E. Draganits
© E. Draganits