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Neolithic and Bronze Age cattle data from Switzerland

Cattle biometrical data from sites across Switzerland dated to the late Neolithic and Bronze Age (c4500 – 800 cal BC). Basic NISP data are also provided for the main species.

Project Abstract

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Switzerland is home to a large number of well-preserved sites dated to the late Neolithic and Bronze Age. Many of these sites are located in wetland locations, where waterlogged conditions provide perfect conditions for the preservation of organic remains, including animal bones, which are often present in large numbers. Wood has also often been recovered from these sites, allowing very precise dating using dendrochronology, and providing a great opportunity for studying human-animal interactions through time, using very fine time slices. This database collates zooarchaeological data from these sites, focusing on Number of Identified Specimens (NISP) and biometrical data, with a particular focus on cattle remains. Many of these datasets had previously been published individually as part of older site monographs, not easily accessible to people based outside of Switzerland, and this is the first time they have been brought together in an Open Access database. The data were collated as part of a project investigating Swiss prehistoric cattle husbandry, hosted by the University of Basel between 2018 and 2020.

Methodological notes

Material Included

NISP (Number of Identified Specimens) and measurement data were collected from Late Neolithic and Bronze Age sites across the area now occupied by modern day Switzerland. The list of layers included is not completely exhaustive – layers were only included if they had either NISP or biometrical data, or both.

Measurements were collected from a number of different sources:

  1. from databases at the institute of Integrative Prehistory and Archaeological Science (IPAS) in Basel, Switzerland
  2. from the literature (see bibliography)
  3. from unpublished databases belonging to the person who recorded the data

Both postcranial and tooth measurements are included in the database, but not every single measurement from the original reports was included, as a selection of the most common and useful measurements was made. A list of these measurements can be found in the attached measurement list. The selection of measurements was made based on a number of parameters:

  1. Their availability in databases and reports (generally linked to their prevalence in assemblages due to taphonomic processes etc)
  2. The ease in which they can be taken consistently by different researchers
  3. The ease of their use (for example, only phalanges that could be assigned as either fore or hindlimb were included)

All measurements included are defined in von den Driesch (1976) unless otherwise stated in the attached measurement list.


The dataset includes both wetland and dryland sites, which have been dated using 14C dating, dendrochronology, stratigraphy, or a combination of these. Site dating and the dating method have been included in Table 1 for each layer. In some cases, wetland sites were dated using dendrochronology with a very fine temporal precision of just a couple of decades. Dryland site dating tends to rely on a combination of 14C dating and stratigraphic information, and so less precision is possible.

Chronological groups at four levels of precision were used for the analysis published in Wright (In Press), and this information is also provided in Table 1. A detailed explanation of these chronological groupings can be found in the publication, but is also summarised here:

Groups defined at the first level of chronological phasing, which incorporates the most data and covers the longest time spans are based on broad cultural phases that have previously been defined in the Swiss Late Neolithic and Bronze Age. These are referred to using the codes LNI, LNII, LNII and LNIV, EBA, MBA and LBA. The second scale splits the Neolithic data into 300 year intervals, the third into 200 year intervals and the final most precise scale, uses 100 year intervals. These time slices use the original LN codes as a reference, and then each 100 years within each code period has a letter e.g. LNII-ABC for 300 years, LNII-AB for 200 years and LNII-A for 100 years etc.

Potential applications of the data

This dataset will be useful to anyone looking for comparative biometrical cattle data from Neolithic and Bronze Age Central Europe, and the scope of research that it could be applied to is therefore very broad. As NISPs for all of the main species are also given this dataset also provides good summary data for anyone interested in the species make up or size of Swiss Neolithic and Bronze Age assemblages.


This dataset was compiled during the course of a European Commission Horizon 2020 Marie-Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship (Grant Agreement no. 792076), which was held by Elizabeth Wright from 2018-2020, and hosted by the institute of Integrative Prehistory and Archaeological Science (IPAS) the University of Basel. The raw data were collected as part of numerous projects funded by various Swiss cantonal authorities over a period of more than 40 years.

Related publications

A large portion of the dataset has been analysed in this paper:

Wright, E. 2021. Investigating cattle husbandry in the Swiss Neolithic using different scales of temporal precision: potential early evidence for deliberate livestock “improvement” in Europe. Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences13, 36.

The data result from multiple projects conducted over numerous years, and so there are many related publications. The most comprehensive overview of the Swiss situation is provided in this review paper:

Schibler, J. 2017. Zooarchaeological results from Neolithic and Bronze Age wetland and dryland sites in the Central Alpine Foreland: economic, ecologic, and taphonomic relevance, in: Albarella, U., Rizzetto, M., Russ, H., Vickers, K., Viner-Daniels, S. (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Zooarchaeology. Oxford University Press.

References for individual datasets are listed with each site (see also the “Bibliography” document below.

Current deposition of the physical collection

These data were collected from multiple sources, and the original literature sources should be referred to for information about the material (see the reference column in the database, and the bibliography).

About the authors

All data authors are affiliated with Integrative Prähistorische und Naturwissenschaftliche Archäologie (IPNA) (Integrative Prehistory and Archaeological Science (IPAS)), University of Basel, Spalenring 145, 4055 Basel, Switzerland.

Descriptive Attribute Value(s)
Vocabulary: DCMI Metadata Terms (Dublin Core Terms)
Temporal Coverage
Vocabulary: DCMI Metadata Terms (Dublin Core Terms)
Spatial Coverage
Vocabulary: DCMI Metadata Terms (Dublin Core Terms)
Switzerland info
Vocabulary: GeoNames
Open Context References: Switzerland hub
Vocabulary: DCMI Metadata Terms (Dublin Core Terms)
Suggested Citation

Elizabeth Wright, Margherita Schäfer, Barbara Stopp, Elisabeth Marti-Grädel, Francesca Ginella, Manar Kerdy, Miki Bopp-Ito, Sabine Deschler-Erb, Jörg Schibler. (2021) "Neolithic and Bronze Age cattle data from Switzerland". Released: 2021-02-10. Open Context. <> DOI:

Editorial Status
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