Large quantities of animal bones have been found during excavations of medieval and more recent sites in Sweden. A study of these animal bones included measurements to determine the size of these animals. Measurements, for example, of the metacarpal bones of cattle, show both geographic and chronological differences in size. Examples from the Iron Age (500 BC - 1050 AD) are few; among other things, this is because we mainly have graves with cremated bone remains, and not very many village sites from this period have been investigated. The clearest difference in size among cattle is to be found between the early and late Middle Ages (tab. 1). During the early Middle Ages the average height of the withers in most parts of Sweden was approximately 106-113 cm; during the late Middle Ages it was approximately 102-107 cm. There continued to be some animals with higher whithers in the late Middle Ages, but the general tendency was that animals became smaller. Compared with the animals of today, medieval cattle were both small in size and slender. The smallest cattle found in archaeological material are from 17th century occupation levels in Falun in the province of Dalarna (in middlesweden). Here there was a bone from a cow with a height of only 86 cm to the withers (fig. 2). The change in the size of animals is due both to inherited factors and to their living conditions. Another explanation for their reduction in size during the late Middle Age may be the agrarian crisis of 1350-1450.
Cattle, withers height, metacarpus, method, Sweden, Medieval Period, Wiking Age, body weight.