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David Osborne

PhD: Archaeology

Thesis Title: Moving with the times: diet and mobility of people and their animals in Neolithic and Bronze Age Lincolnshire and the Fens

The prehistoric sites of Lincolnshire were last surveyed in a monograph by May (1976). While a new overview is in preparation (Chowne, forthcoming) faunal remains from these sites have received little analysis or synthesis. As a result, the region is lacking important bio-cultural information that can be obtained through the study of human-animal relationships (Sykes 2014). My PhD research will integrate zooarchaeology, stable isotope analysis and database modelling to generate a new understanding of how the prehistoric communities of Lincolnshire behaved and developed from the Neolithic to the Middle Bronze Age.

Lincolnshire and the Fens comprise an environmental mosaic of limestone uplands, chalk wolds, river valleys, marshes and fenland. This facilitates different kinds of settlement and resource management but how this complexity was negotiated in prehistory is little understood. Yet the region contains a large number and diversity of prehistoric sites — from Neolithic causewayed enclosures to Bronze Age burial mounds and settlements — many of which have yielded faunal remains that allow investigations of human-animal-landscape interactions. My research project will re-analyse, synthesise and interrogate the zooarchaeological data to transform understanding of how this area operated in prehistory.

Following methods tested successfully in other areas of Britain (e.g. Viner et al. 2010; Madgwick & Mulville 2015) I will combine zooarchaeological evidence with isotope analysis (carbon, nitrogen, sulphur & strontium) to reconstruct husbandry regimes and explore the dynamics of animal (and by proxy human) diet and mobility. All the isotope analysis will be undertaken in collaboration with the NERC Isotope Geosciences Laboratory (NIGL), where I was trained in isotope analysis as part of my MSc. To model these data and examine them within a national context, I will create and populate a new on-line repository for isotope results. This will also contain published and ‘grey literature’ datasets that have never been synthesised before. Statistical, data visualisation and mapping services will be used to increase the interpretative value of the isotope results, for instance investigating whether Lincolnshire and the Fens exhibit trends consistent with the rest of the British Isles.

Archaeological and environmental scientists have long been calling for the establishment of a searchable isotope data repository, as it is a requirement of many funders that datasets are Open Access. As a by-product of my research, I will meet the community’s needs whilst also supporting Critical Priority 5 of Historic England’s prehistory research strategy, ‘improving access to unpublished data’, as well as Theme PR5, ‘realising the full potential of scientific techniques’ (English Heritage 2010).


Chowne, P. (forthcoming). Prehistoric Lincolnshire: archaeology and landscape. Lincoln: History of Lincolnshire Committee.

English Heritage (2010). Research Strategy for Prehistory. Consultation Draft, June 2010.

Madgwick, R. and Mulville, J. (2015). Feasting on fore-limbs: conspicuous consumption and identity in later prehistoric Britain. Antiquity 89, 629–644.

May, J. (1976). Prehistoric Lincolnshire. Lincoln: History of Lincolnshire Committee.

Sykes, N. (2014) Beastly questions: Animal answers to archaeological issues. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Viner, S., Evans, J., Albarella, U. and Parker Pearson, M. (2010). Cattle mobility in prehistoric Britain: strontium isotope analysis of cattle teeth from Durrington Walls (Wiltshire, Britain). Journal of Archaeological Science 37, 2812–2820.

Supervisors and Institution(s)

Dr Hannah O'Regan, University of Nottingham

Dr Oliver Harris, University of Leicester


  • Osborne, D. A. (2013) Fallow Deer in Iron Age and Roman Britain: a study of fallow deer antlers using stable isotopes. Unpublished MSc dissertation, University of Nottingham.
  • Miller, H., Carden, R. F., Evans, J., Lamb, A., Madgwick, R., Osborne, D., Symmons, R. and Sykes, N. (2015) Dead or alive? Investigating long-distance transport of live fallow deer and their body parts in antiquity. Environmental Archaeology 21:3, 246–259, DOI:
  • Osborne, D. (2017) Imports and isotopes: a modern baseline study for interpreting Iron Age and Roman trade in fallow deer antlers. Papers from the Institute of Archaeology 27(1): Art. 10, pp. 1–15, DOI: 

Scholarly / Public Engagement Activities



  • Tracking the elusive fallow deer: exploring stable isotope evidence for imports during the Iron Age and Roman periods in Britain. Paper presented at PZAF 2014 (Postgraduate Zooarchaeology Forum), Institute of Archaeology, University College London.


  • Should I stay or should I go? Mobility and settlement in Neolithic and Bronze Age Britain. Paper presented at Midlands3Cities Research Festival, Birmingham.
  • Should I stay or should I go? Mobility and settlement in Neolithic and Bronze Age Britain. Paper presented at Link18 multidisciplinary conference, University of Nottingham.
  • Exploring mobility in Neolithic and Bronze Age Britain. Paper presented at 24th annual meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists, University of Barcelona.
  • Exploring changes in mobility in Neolithic and Bronze Age Britain. Paper presented at 5th annual Neolithic and Early Bronze Age Research Students' Symposium, University of Manchester.


  • Moving on or settling down? Exploring mobility in Neolithic and Bronze Age Britain. Paper presented at Classics & Archaeology departmental research conference, University of Nottingham.
  • Moving with the Times: Diet and mobility of people and their animals in Neolithic and Bronze Age Lincolnshire and the Fens. Poster presented at East Midlands Historic Environment Research Framework conference, University of Nottingham.
  • Where the Wild Things Were: placing wild animals in the British Neolithic. Paper presented at the 6th annual Neolithic and Early Bronze Age Research Students' Symposium, University of Worcester.

Professional affiliations

  • The Prehistoric Society: member since 2011
  • The Association for Environmental Archaeology: member since 2012
  • The European Association of Archaeologists: member since 2018

Other Research Interests

  • Stable isotopes
  • Zooarchaeology
  • Data analysis, statistics and visualisation
  • Computer applications in archaeology
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