Skin and Bones: Taphonomy of a Medieval Tannery in Hungary

Laszlo Bartosiewicz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Taphonomy in medieval archaeology is far more than the post mortem history of animal remains. In addition to material evidence, parallel data are also available in the form of documentary as well as iconographic sources. However, similarly to animal bones, such data are also prone to selective taphonomic processes.
This paper is a taphonomic analysis of animal remains from an excavation with both written records and lacunae in the written records in order to reconstruct the existence of a special craft, tanning.

Excavations near Baj in Central Hungary revealed the remains of a small, 15th-16th century manorial settlement at the site of Öreg–Kovács-hegy. The 3,174 (146.8 kg) identifiable animal bones were dominated by cattle remains (NISP=1,969; 105.4 kg), while red deer was also well-represented (NISP=257; 16.2 kg). Even horse bones were relatively numerous (NISP=77; 10.6 kg). The anatomical composition, pattern of butchery, and spatial distribution of bones indicated that many of them were not ordinary food remains but probably tannery refuse. Although this activity was not mentioned in written records,
archaeozoological observations complement the discovery of circular features at the site, interpreted as lime pits.

Tanning was chosen as a paradigmatic activity that leaves both specific archaeological and archaeozoological markers. In addition to establishing diagnostic osteological criteria indicative of tanning, the selective survival and reliability of the different types of evidence (written, iconographic, architectural) are also indirectly compared.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)95-111
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Taphonomy
Issue number2-3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2009


  • Archaeozoology
  • Body Part Distribution
  • Bone Weight
  • Skinning
  • Tanning
  • Schlepp Effect
  • Late Middle Ages
  • Hungary

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