This project aims at a detailed genetic characterisation of cattle (Bos primigenius f. taurus, Bos taurus) populations during Celtic and Roman time using mitochondrial (mtDNA) and nuclear markers (nDNA). Genetic data will be compared to the archaeological knowledge, to results of morphological bone investigations and to isotope analysis.
With the establishment of Roman provinces north of the Alps large social and economical changes occurred. The extent of this cultural impact on domestic animals in Switzerland was demonstrated by an increase in cattle size from late Iron Age onwards and a decrease after Roman occupation in Early Medieval time, a fact observed in other parts of Europe as well. Other potential changes are morphologically invisible. Phenotypic changes can point to shifts in husbandry techniques, to diversification in genetic stock such as through import of cattle, or to both. Based on the bone assemblages excavated at major Swiss archaeological sites, however, the distinction between the causes with morphometrical methods is not possible. We do not know which traits beside size might have been selected for. Morphology also fails in many cases to sex the bones, which would provide information on herd structures and the use of cattle. One alternative is to employ techniques of molecular genetics e.g. ancient DNA (aDNA) analyses and meaningful genetic markers to study cattle history or features.