top of page


UrbanHerds investigates agricultural provisioning and environmental exploitation in Archaic Italian cities (c. 600–400 BC) through the lens of animal herding. It reconstructs where and how animals were produced using zooarchaeological and isotopic analyses, and establishes the relationship between herding practices, the natural landscape, and human land-use through contextualisaiton with landscape datasets. This combination of traditional (zooarchaeology) and novel (isotopic chemistry) methods, enhanced through integration with the natural and human landscape (GIS), is an innovative approach that will offer substantial new insight into rural adaptations and city–environment relationships at the dawn of European urbanism.

Il Passeggere  Cinta senese pigs  Michela Simoncini  Flickr.jpg


Animals were essential to urban life, and farming was the most widespread and fundamental form of ancient production. Livestock provided food, fibre, materials, muscle power, and fertilizer for crops. In researching livestock, we investigate an important source of transferable wealth in pre-monetary economies.


Because animals typically lived off-site, outside of urban settlements, we can use them to track the types of environments that cities exploited. Herds were also mobile, and by reconstructing their mobility patterns we gain insight into landscape connectivity and freedom of movement within and beyond urban hinterlands. 


  1. How did animal management and mobility strategies differ between early urban sites?

  2. How did the physical landscape around cities shape animal management practices?

  3. How far did animals travel? Did urban hinterlands constrain animal mobility?

  4. What is the relationship between settlement systems and herding strategies?



Isotopic analysis
of bone collagen

Isotopic analysis
of tooth enamel

Landscape contextualisation in GIS


Zooarchaeological analyses help reconstruct inter-site differences in the organisation of animal husbandry for both urban and rural sites.

Analysis of stable carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) isotopes from bone collagen provides insight into animal diets, providing evidence for feeding strategies, herding environments, and intensive vs extensive management practices

Strontium (87Sr/86Sr) and oxygen (δ18O) isotopes from tooth enamel provide evidence for changes in animal location, birth season, and mobility patterns like transhumance.

Integration with environmental and landscape datasets will establish how the landscape shaped animal production, whether animals crossed  territorial borders, and to what extent intensive land use patterns reflect intensive production strategies.

Image credits

Project: Il Passeggere - Cinta senese pigs. ©Michela Simoncini

Research questions: The Shepherd with his Flock, Castelluccio di Norcia, Monti Sibillini, Italy. ©

Methodology: ©A. Trentacoste

bottom of page