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Animal remains from Forcello

Animal remains from the Etruscan settlement at Forcello (MN). Excludes fish and molluscs

Project Abstract

Animal remains from Forcello

This dataset includes animal remains (excluding fish and molluscs) from the Etruscan settlement at Forcello (Mantova). It was created for and submitted with the author’s PhD dissertation (University of Sheffield, 2014. See link below). Since the 1980s, excavation at Forcello has revealed an Archaic city consisting of superimposed houses and workshops. The faunal remains from the site represent one of the largest Etruscan animal bone assemblages ever collected, and as such they present an important opportunity to investigate Etruscan livestock management and wild animal exploitation – including birds - in the Po Plain. The dataset, like the settlement at Forcello, spans the sixth to fourth centuries BC. No known habitation occurred before or after the Etruscan period, thus there are not problems with residual material, except perhaps the possible intrusion of later material into strata disturbed by plowing. The vast majority of the assemblage was hand collected; sieved materials are presented in a separate table. Material was recorded according to a limited diagnostic zone protocol that focused on teeth and epiphyses/articulations. Standard zooarchaeological information (tooth wear stages, fusion, etc.) as well as biometric data is also included. The remains are currently stored Italy at Bagnolo San Vito (Mantova).

Methodological Notes:

The diagnostic-zone recording system employed at Forcello is based on an unpublished protocol (Albarella 2009) adapted from an earlier systems by Albarella and Davis (1994) and Davis (1992). Sieved material was recorded in separate tables. The goal of the system is to record a maximum level of information useful to the reconstruction of livestock populations and a minimum amount of low-grade or repetitive data. Therefore this system includes multiple characteristics useful in establishing population age curves, sex ratios and animal size, but excludes parts of the skeleton likely to supply be redundant information (e.g. second and fifth metapodials). Side (left/right) is specified for all elements except loose teeth and phalanges. The remains of rare taxa, very young animals, and animals of unusual size were also recorded. Optionally, other specimens of interest, such bones displaying pathologies or evidence of butchery, working, and burning were also recorded. Specimens not in the list of Recorded Elements were documented as "other" to simplify separation during analysis. The presence of large (cattle/horse size), medium (pig/sheep size), and small (hare/cat size) ribs and vertebrae was noted for each context.

Thus, while a limited set of skeletal elements is explicitly designated as "always recorded," the recording system allows a large degree of flexibility. The foundation of the recording protocol is set of skeletal elements that are always recorded. At least half of the specified zone must be present in order for the specimen to be included. Recorded Elements for mammals are:

  • Upper teeth – occlusal surface*
  • Lower teeth – occlusal surface*
  • Cranium – zygomaticus
  • Atlas
  • Calcaneum – sustentaculum
  • Scafocuboid / scafoid / cuboid
  • Metatarsal – distal epiphysis
  • (only III, IV or III+IV)
  • Indeterminate Metapodial–distal epiphysis (only III, IV or III+IV)
  • Axis
  • Scapula – glenoid cavity
  • Scapula – neck
  • Humerus – distal epiphysis
  • Humerus – head of proximal epiphysis
  • Radius – distal epiphysis
  • Radius – proximal epiphysis
  • Ulna – proximal articulation
  • Carpal 3 or Carpal 2+3
  • Metacarpal – distal epiphysis (only III, IV or III+IV)
  • Pelvis – acetabulum, ischial part
  • Femur – distal epiphysis
  • Femur – head of proximal epiphysis
  • Tibia – distal epiphysis
  • Tibia – proximal epiphysis
  • Astragalus – lateral half
  • Phalanges 1, 2 and 3 – proximal articulation (only for digits III, IV or III+IV)
  • Horncore – complete transverse section
  • Antler – complete transverse section

* Pig canines are an exception and are recorded when a complete transverse section is present.

Recorded Elements for birds are:

  • Coracoid – proximal articulation
  • Scapula – proximal articulation
  • Humerus – distal epiphysis
  • Ulna – proximal articulation
  • Carpometacarpus –proximal articulation
  • Femur – distal epiphysis
  • Tibiotarsus – distal epiphysis
  • Tarsometatarsus – distal epiphysis

Wear stages were recorded for the premolars and molars of cattle, sheep/goat, and pig. Wear stages follow Grant (1982) for cattle and pig, and Payne (1973; 1987) for sheep/goat. Bones are described as ‘fusing’ if any part of the fusion line is still visible. Perinatal and neonatal human bones were aged based on their dimensions using Schaefer et al. (2009). Sex was determined at the time of recording for Sus canines and canine alveoli based on their size and morphology (cf. Mayer and Lehr Brisbin 1988). Sex distinction was also attempted on the pelvis of sheep/goat, cattle and pig using its general morphology (Boessneck 1969).

Butchery marks were identified as cut (knife), chop (cleaver) or saw marks. When cut marks were found in positions analogous to those in Binford (1981:96–142), they were recorded as the result of skinning, filleting, or dismemberment; Binford’s location code for each mark was not included. If possible, a conjecture (delineated by "?") was attempted on cut marks that did not match marks noted by Binford. Gnawing was recorded as the result of activity by carnivores, rodents, or digestion. Burning was recorded as burnt (black), calcined (white), or singed (bone only partially colored). All burned bones with dimensions over c. 36 mm2 were recorded, although few of these qualified as quantifiable specimens.

Measurements taken on teeth from Forcello are explained in Table 1, post-cranial measurements in Table 2, and measurements taken on each species in Table 3 (see attached PDF). Measurements were taken with Mitutoyo 150mm or LTL 300mm digital calipers on remains sufficiently preserved to yield accurate, reproducible results. The calipers have a 0.01mm resolution, and measurements are rounded to the nearest tenth. However greatest length (GL) measurements taken with the large LTL calipers are rounded to whole millimeters.


This dataset presents comparable faunal data for others researching animal exploitation in Italian/European antiquity. The two-century timespan and the large (1500+) number of identified specimens in the assemblage make it a regionally important dataset for the late Iron Age in northern Italy. The large amount of biometric information collected has further relevance to osteometric studies. Additionally, the inclusion of birds and some small mammals may be of use to natural history researchers.


Animal remains recorded for this dissertation derive from the 1982–2011 excavation seasons, although little material came from years prior to 1990. The faunal assemblage was hand-collected, save for a few boxes which were marked as sieved. Sieving was a rare occurrence and only used for small number of contexts. Mollusks had been separated from the animal bone and were not studied for this project. The excavation team from the Università degli Studi di Milano provided phasing and context information for the recorded assemblage. During excavation, contexts were assigned either a US (positive feature, e.g. fill) or ES (negative feature, e.g. cut) number. During recording ES numbers were denoted by a slash preceding the number (e.g. ES 100 = /100; US 100 = 100). Contexts were assigned to a phase and one of sixteen context types (a-q). The excavators also provided a written description of each context. If a context lacked a specific letter assignment but was accompanied by a written description of its form/function, the written description was used to categorize it (r–z). Contexts not assigned to a specific habitation phase were classified into broader chronological groups. For contexts without specific phase information, the written description was used to assign a terminus post quem or ante quem, delineated by a greater than or less than sign. Broad phase ranges applied mainly to material recovered from various fills and middens, when the deposition of the fill could be dated, but not the material within the fill itself. Etruscan contexts that could not be securely dated were classified as other "unphased" archaeological contexts (U).

Relevant References:

de Marinis, R.C. and Rapi, M.

L'abitato etrusco del Forcello di Bagnolo S. Vito (Mantova): Le fasi di età arcaica. Edited by de Marinis, R.C. and Rapi, M. 2nd ed. Firenze: Università degli Studi di Milano - Comune di Bagnolo San Vito.

de Marinis, R.C.

Gli Etruschi a nord del Po, Catalogo della Mostra, Palazzo Ducale, Galleria dell'Estivale, 21 settembre 1986–12 gennaio 1987. Udine: Campanotto Editore.

Trentacoste, A.

The Etruscans and their Animals: the Zooarchaeology of Forcello di Bagnolo San Vito (Mantova). Ph.D. Thesis, Department of Archaeology, University of Sheffield. Available online:

Suggested Citation

Angela Trentacoste. (2015) "Animal remains from Forcello". Released: 2015-10-21. Open Context. <> DOI:

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