HERDS. Animal Husbandry and its Economic Role in the Development of Central Mediterranean Protohistoric Societies

In HERDS we investigate changes in husbandry practices on continental and insular Italy during the Bronze and Iron Ages by using archaeological and bioarchaeological techniques to study mobility strategies, animal penning, the role of livestock and their derived products (e.g. wool and milk), and the selection of specialised breeds to obtain specific secondary products. 

The 18th-8th centuries BC in Italy and the central Mediterranean saw the flourishing of high-density communities and permanent settlements, which lead to the establishment of incipient urban centres in the Early Iron Age. The role of various Italian regions emerged both in terrestrial and maritime exchange networks, which mobilised raw materials, exotic foods, ideologies and innovative technologies. Various factors influence socio-economic growth, such as endogenous socio-political transformations leading to the emergence of elites and demographic growth, the establishment of interconnected exchange networks, the specialisation of agricultural techniques and the introduction of arboriculture, the availability and exploitation of metal ores, the advancement of craft activities and the impact of warfare. HERDS targets a little explored but crucial aspect, namely the patterns of use of domestic animals, which we use as proxies in this project for a wide spectrum of human activities. Animal remains represent one of the most abundant assemblages in ancient settlements and zooarchaeological studies have provided significant results on human-animal interactions in the past. By using a multi-method approach, including zooarchaeology, palaeoproteomics, ZooMS, lipid residue analysis, stable isotope analysis, aDNA, pollen analysis, optical and scanning electron microscopy, and targeted archaeological excavation and spatial analysis, we aim to open new perspectives on socio-economic trajectories, as well as on bio-environmental research. 

HERDS therefore aims to better understand economic models related to husbandry patterns between the 18th and 8th centuries BC, namely the introduction of animal penning and that of crops targeted to feed animals, the circulation of animals across communities, the socio-cultural role of transhumance, the relevance of animal surplus and secondary products for exchange networks. We also aim to track changes and/or improvements in breeding strategies related to the intensive exploitation of secondary products, and to define the process of development of domestic animal breed variety in Italy during the Bronze Age and Early Iron Age.

Funded by

Ministry of University and Research (PRIN: Progetti di Ricerca di Rilevante Interesse Nazionale).

Principal Investigator
  • Prof. Andrea Cardarelli, La Sapienza Università di Roma
Co-Investigators & collaborators

Prof Antonio Curci (University of Bologna), Prof Beatrice Demarchi (University of Turin), Prof Claudia Minniti (Università di Lecce), Prof Marco Pacciarelli (University of Naples), Dr Cynthianne Spiteri. (University of Turin), Ms Marlisa Mazzola (University of Bologna).