09 - Species Analysis of Leather Objects and Manufacturing Offcuts from Vindolanda, UK


Elizabeth M. Greene, University of Western Ontario; Gillian Taylor, Teesside University;, Barbara Birley, The Vindolanda Trust, UK; and Rhiannon Stevens, University College London


The Roman fort at Vindolanda on the northern frontier in Britain has produced the largest assemblage of archaeological leather from anywhere in the Roman Empire. The assemblage spans over 200 years of occupation and includes numerous different types of artifacts, offering an excellent opportunity to examine the characteristics of leather used in manufacturing in the Roman period. This poster presents the preliminary analysis of the animal species used for different types of objects and manufacturing processes. Historically, it has been thought that Roman military tent panels were made from goat hides, and it is often stated that the uppers of some shoes utilized soft leathers such as goat or deer skin. Using ZooMS analysis (zooarchaeology mass spectrometry) we provide more specific protein analysis for the determination of species used for these products. Preliminary work shows a much higher reliance on cattle hides than goatskin in samples taken from the late first and the early third centuries C.E. Eight panels from the same tent dating to the first period of occupation at Vindolanda (ca. 85–90 C.E.) revealed that none were made of goat skin; three panels were made from cattle hide and five came from sheep hide. Moreover, all constituent parts from four shoes (insole, midsoles, outer sole, thong, uppers, and heel stiffener) were tested, three of which were comprised entirely of cattle hide (the fourth was a nonviable sample). Considering the perceived wisdom up to this point, these are very interesting and somewhat unanticipated results. This initial report of results is important to counter the expectations that were formed before the development of scientific analyses, which now provide accurate results of species used in Roman leather manufacturing.