An isotopic perspective on the socio-economic significance of livestock in Bronze Age West-Frisia, the Netherlands (2000–800 BCE)

Nathalie Brusgaard*, H. Fokkens, Lisette M. Kootker

*Corresponding author for this work

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The Bronze Age is increasingly characterised as a period in which the search for and trade in metals dominates mobility and exchange in Europe. Chiefs travelled the lands and seas and dominated the acquisition and possession of critical resources. Most research focuses on the provenance and distribution of metals and on the mobility of people. Yet, the mobility of one the most obvious sources of social and economic wealth in the Bronze Age has got little attention: livestock. This study explores the possible social role of livestock of cattle and sheep, both in the household sphere and in the sphere of exchange as a means of ‘connecting people’. Here, strontium isotope data are presented from 58 cattle and sheep from settlement contexts from Bronze Age West-Frisia (2000–800 BCE), the Netherlands, with the aim to gain an isotopic perspective on the socio-economic significance of livestock. The data provide evidence for long-distance trade or exchange of livestock. Besides their monetary value, we suggest that livestock, and in particular cattle, may have been perceived as equal to people in terms of labour and production and as members of the household. Their mobility and exchange therefore signal more than just economic trade, it signals a social practice. By changing our perspective towards the social ideology of farming life, we will move closer to understanding Bronze Age societies in more diverse and inclusive ways. Research into livestock mobility is therefore considered fundamental for a more diverse understanding of Bronze Age farming life.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101944
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science: Reports
Early online date31 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2019


  • Bronze Age
  • Livestock mobility
  • Social significance
  • Social zooarchaeology
  • Strontium isotopes
  • The Netherlands


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