Our Research

Zooarchaeology

3D scan of a horse astragalus

A first research strand is the re-analysis of the bones of horses and warhorses from archaeological excavations, across a sample of assemblages held by museums and archives. The use of advanced 3D geometric morphometrics (GMM) techniques will give the work a scientific cutting edge. We hope to identify breed characteristics that might relate to different physical uses of horses and warhorses. Some changes in bone morphology will have genetic foundations related to breeding for particular capabilities, whilst other will be plastic and caused by actual activities during life. We will be able to compare our zooarchaeological findings with the genetic patterns seen through the analyses of the ‘Pegasus’ project.

Material Culture

Examples of medieval horse harness pendants

A second research strand is a comprehensive survey of surviving equine material culture, which comes in several different forms. The Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) is producing huge quantities of new information annually on medieval horse gear (especially copper alloy objects found by metal detecting), which we are mapping and analysing alongside other published and unpublished materials, to refine the dating of these objects and to explore changes in their functional and decorative roles. Secondly, we are analysing items of horse armour, which survives from the fifteenth century onwards in museums and other collections, to provide an index of warhorse morphology that can be cross-compared against other sources including the evidence from bones.

Landscapes and Documents

LiDAR image of a horse stud within the deer park at Mere, Wiltshire

A third research strand is the archaeological study of horse breeding landscapes (especially studs), informed by analysis of published sources and unpublished documentary evidence. Integrated analysis of new datasets will produce a fresh body of information about warhorses, their development, training, appearance, and by extension their military and social roles. It has long been recognised that horse studs were located within deer parks and as the location of these parks on the ground is often known, we hope to be able to pinpoint (and then reconstruct) the horse breeding landscapes of the Middle Ages in way that has not been attempted before.