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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 will allow a review of the relations and interactions between human and non-human animals and emphasise 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 will use isotope analysis of faunal and human 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, lead 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, lead, strontium) (Evans et al. 2012; Evans et al. 2019; Laffoon et al. 2017). Material for analysis comes from small samples of approximately 1 cm3 cut from a bone for study of diet using carbon and nitrogen, or from enamel or dentine sampled from a tooth. Tooth enamel preserves the isotope values of oxygen, lead 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 teeth will be sampled incrementally, informing on seasonal changes such as the movement to summer wetland 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. 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




  • 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.

Other Research Interests

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


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