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David Osborne

Archaeology, University of Nottingham

Thesis title:

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

My PhD research explores residential mobility and settlement from the Middle Neolithic (c. 3000 BC) to the Middle Bronze Age (c. 1500 BC), focusing on Lincolnshire and the Fens in particular. It seeks to establish whether there was a change in the mobility of people and their domesticated animals and if so, whether this relates to the lack of evidence for permanent settlement during the Middle and Late Neolithic (Whittle 1997) and/or the establishment of small farming settlements by the time of the Middle Bronze Age (Brück 1999). Taking a posthumanist, non-anthropocentric viewpoint allows a review of the relations and interactions between human and non-human animals and emphasises the importance of the latter in co-constituting mobility and movement in Neolithic and Bronze Age communities (Braidotti 2013; Harris 2013).

To investigate mobility, I am using isotope analysis of faunal remains excavated from sites in the area; this is a well-tested method which has been applied in other areas of the country (for example, Neil et al. 2016; Viner et al. 2010). Isotope analysis determines the amount of isotopes of elements such as carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, sulphur, and strontium incorporated into human and animal tissues and bones from their diet. The results can inform on components of the diet (carbon, nitrogen), proximity to the sea (sulphur), or whether the person or animal started life in an area other than where their remains were found (oxygen, strontium) (Evans et al. 2012; Evans et al. 2019; Laffoon et al. 2017). Material for analysis comes from small samples cut from a bone to study diet using carbon and nitrogen isotopes, or from enamel or dentine sampled from a tooth. Tooth enamel preserves the isotope values of oxygen and strontium because its resistance to change while buried in the ground means it is unaffected by contamination from groundwater carrying local ‘signatures’ of those isotopes (Madgwick et al. 2012; Neil et al. 2018; 2017). Additionally, the dentine inside cattle and sheep teeth will be sampled incrementally, informing on seasonal changes such as the movement to summer saltmarsh grazing on the Fens.

My research will integrate zooarchaeology, isotope analysis and database modelling to generate a new understanding of how the prehistoric communities of Lincolnshire and the Fens behaved and developed from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age. As a by-product of my research, I will support Critical Priority 5 ‘improving access to unpublished data’ and Theme PR5, ‘realising the full potential of scientific techniques’ of Historic England’s prehistory research strategy, as well as the sub-theme ‘Development of agriculturally-based settlement patterns’ in the Research Agenda and Strategy for the East Midlands (English Heritage 2010; Knight et al. 2012).


Braidotti, R. (2013). The Posthuman. Polity Press, Cambridge.

Brück, J. (1999) What’s in a settlement? Domestic practice and residential mobility in Early Bronze Age southern England. In: Making Places in the Prehistoric World: Themes in Settlement Archaeology. Ed. by J. Brück & M. Goodman. London: UCL Press, 52–75.

English Heritage (2010) Research Strategy for Prehistory: consultation draft. Tech. rep. url: https://historicengland.org.uk/content/docs/research/draft-prehistoric-strategy-pdf/ (visited on 19/08/2019).

Evans, J. A., C. A. Chenery & J. Montgomery (2012) A summary of strontium and oxygen isotope variation in archaeological human tooth enamel excavated from Britain. Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry 27, 754–764. doi: 10.1039/C2JA10362A.

Evans, J., M. Parker Pearson, R. Madgwick, H. Sloane & U. Albarella (2019) Strontium and oxygen isotope evidence for the origin and movement of cattle at Late Neolithic Durrington Walls, UK. Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 11(10), 5181–5197. doi: 10.1007/s12520-019-00849-w.

Harris, O. J. T. (2013) Relational communities in prehistoric Britain. In: Relational Archaeologies: Humans, Animals, Things. Ed. by C. Watts. Abingdon: Routledge, 173–189.

Knight, D., B. Vyner & C. Allen, eds. (2012) East Midlands Heritage: an updated research agenda and strategy for the Historic Environment of the East Midlands. Nottingham Archaeological Monographs 6. Nottingham and York: University of Nottingham and York Archaeological Trust. url: https://historicengland.org.uk/images-books/publications/east-midlands-heritage/ (visited on 17/03/2019).

Laffoon, J. E., T. F. Sonnemann, T. Shafie, C. L. Hofman, U. Brandes & G. R. Davies (2017) Investigating human geographic origins using dual-isotope (87Sr/86Sr, δ18O) assignment approaches. PLOS ONE 12 (2), 1–16. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0172562.

Madgwick, R., J. Mulville & J. Evans (2012) Investigating diagenesis and the suitability of porcine enamel for strontium (87Sr/86Sr) isotope analysis. Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry 27, 733–742. doi: 10.1039/C2JA10356G.

Neil, S., J. Evans, J. Montgomery & C. Scarre (2016) Isotopic evidence for residential mobility of farming communities during the transition to agriculture in Britain. Royal Society Open Science 3 (1). doi: 10.1098/rsos.150522.

Neil, S., J. Evans, J. Montgomery & C. Scarre (2018) Isotopic evidence for landscape use and the role of causewayed enclosures during the earlier Neolithic in Southern Britain. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 84, 185–205. doi: 10.1017/ppr.2018.6.

Neil, S., J. Montgomery, J. Evans, G. T. Cook & C. Scarre (2017) Land use and mobility during the Neolithic in Wales explored using isotope analysis of tooth enamel. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 164 (2), 371–393. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.23279.

Viner, S., J. Evans, U. Albarella & M. Parker Pearson (2010) Cattle mobility in prehistoric Britain: strontium isotope analysis of cattle teeth from Durrington Walls (Wiltshire, Britain). Journal of Archaeological Science 37 (11), 2812–2820. doi: 10.1016/j.jas.2010.06.017.

Whittle, A. (1997) Moving on and moving around: Neolithic settlement mobility. In: Neolithic Landscapes. Ed. by P. Topping. Neolithic Studies Group Seminar Papers 2. Oxford: Oxbow, 15–22.

Research Area

  • Archaeology


  • 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. DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.812350
  • 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: 10.1179/1749631414Y.0000000043
  • 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: 10.5334/pia-482
  • Osborne, D. (2023) When did the cows come home? British Geological Survey blog. URL: https://www.bgs.ac.uk/news/when-did-the-cows-come-home/ (accessed 2023-02-23)
  • Osborne, D. (2023) When did the cows come home? Exploring Bronze Age animal husbandry with isotopes and X-rays. PAST, the news letter of the Prehistoric Society. In press.




  • 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.


  • Using the Arches platform for Heritage and Environmental Archaeology data. Paper presented at Association for Environmental Archaeology Spring conference: Open Science Practices in Environmental Archaeology.
  • Using the Arches platform for Heritage and Environmental Archaeology data. Paper presented at Classics & Archaeology departmental research seminar, University of Nottingham.


  • Secrets from the soil? Tracking Bronze Age cattle and sheep using X-rays. Paper presented at Classics & Archaeology departmental research conference, University of Nottingham.
  • When did the cows come home? Exploring Middle Bronze Age animal husbandry at the fen-edge. Poster presented at the Bronze Age Forum conference, University of Cambridge, 21–22 November 2022. Winner of the Prehistoric Society poster prize.
  • When did the cows come home? Exploring Middle Bronze Age animal husbandry at the fen-edge. Paper presented at Classics & Archaeology departmental research workshop, University of Nottingham.

Other Research Interests

Stable isotopes; zooarchaeology; data analysis, statistics and visualisation; computer applications in archaeology


  • Prehistoric Society: member since 2011
  • Association for Environmental Archaeology: member since 2012
  • European Association of Archaeologists: member since 2018
  • The Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne: member since 2022

Research grants

When Did the Cows Come Home?

Grant from the NERC Environmental Isotope Facility, British Geological Survey, for isotope analysis of cattle, sheep and pig remains from sites in Lincolnshire to explore Bronze Age animal husbandry and grazing. Project Principal Investigator: Professor Hannah O'Regan, University of Nottingham; Co-Investigators: Professor Jane Evans & Dr Angela Lamb, British Geological Survey.