The utility of livestock dung for reconstructing recent ethnological and environmental histories

Xavier Panadès i Blas, Jordi Bartolomé i Filella, Caroline Strömberg, Ignasi Soriano i Tomàs, Paul Buckland, Karen K. Serieyssol, Joan Bach i Plaza, Antonio Arillo Aranda, Francesca Lozar, Tony Stevenson, Lourdes Chamorro i Lorenzo, Peter Ditchfield

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3 Citations (Scopus)


© 2016, © Association for Environmental Archaeology 2016. Animal dung is evaluated here as a tool to reconstruct recent societal and environmental changes. Studies completed on the macro- and micro-contents from dung deposited in a mountain cave in Catalonia during the 1970–1980s, preceding the socio-economic changes in the area, was supplemented by the testimony of the last shepherd alive in the area. This information was also compared with evidence from aerial photographs of the area surrounding the cave taken in 1956 and 2009. Although taphonomic distortion of the dung shape precluded its assignment to its producers based on morphology, information from the organic remains reflects the agro-pastoral activities in the mountainous area of the Catalan coast. A lack of calcium phosphate and abundant phytolith and epidermal remains from wild species indicates that the dung was excreted by ovicaprines, who sheltered in the cave during spells of adverse weather. These indicators also signify that the animals fed only on natural vegetation. Insect remains in the dung include fragments of chafers, dung and ground beetles, bees and ants, and whilst the latter may have foraged in the cave, the others may have been accidentally ingested by herbivores. The nannofossils and diatoms found in the dung derive from tertiary crops 4 km away from the cave but within the range of the ovicaprine herd. The lack of cereal and vegetable remains in the dung is consistent with the ethnographic record that shepherds and farmers could not afford to supplement the herds’ diet with fodder crops or grain, a consequence of the low productivity of the local subsistence agriculture. This study further discusses the socio-economic impacts of the introduction of intensive farming, industrialisation and tourism in Catalonia during the latter part of the last century and how they are represented in the dung.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)128-146
JournalEnvironmental Archaeology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 3 Apr 2017


  • Animal dung
  • Catalonia
  • Diatoms
  • Insects
  • Karst
  • Phytoliths


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