Cattle metapodials are apparently among the bones which have been most investigated by zooarchaeologists. Nevertheless the effect of different variables on size and shape of these bones is still only poorly understood. Here the effect of age, sex, pathology and genetic change on the shape of mediaeval and postmediaeval cattle metapodials at Launceston Castle (England) is considered. It is suggested that a change is due to the presence in the later period of a genetically different type of cattle. This explanation is supported by the contemporary occurrence of a size change and by the different frequency of a non-metrical trait between the two periods. Comparison with other sites and with data from modern animals shows the very large extent to which the shape of metapodials may vary in different regional types, and how this can obscure the difference between sexes.
Cattle metapodials, shape, size, age, sex, pathology, breed.