Journal of Archaeology in the Low Countries 1-2 (November 2009)Liesbeth Troubleyn; Frank Kinnaer; Anton Ervynck; Luk Beeckmans; Danielle Caluwé; Brigitte Cooremans; Frans De Buyser; Koen Deforce; Konjev Desender; An Lentacker; Jan Moens; Gaston Van Bulck; Maarten Van Dijck; Wim Van Neer; Werner Wouters: Consumption patterns and living conditions inside Het Steen, the late medieval prison of Malines (Mechelen, Belgium)
5 The small finds

Conclusions on the animal remains

The inventory of the animal remains clearly shows that, within this find group, most of the contents of the cesspits’ fills consist of consumption refuse. Possibly, the small-sized cockles and the shore crab only arrived at the site together with lumps of mussels, and the sparrowhawk and little owl were perhaps not eaten but only killed or found dead. Furthermore, there is a category of so-called intrusive animals that lived in the building without being invited or encouraged to do so: the insects and woodlice, and the commensal house mouse and black rat. Finally, the cesspits contained the remains of animals that lived near the spot without playing any role in the food provisioning, such as the cats of which only parts of the skeletons have been found. It remains possible that these animals have also been eaten but the bone remains bear no traces that could ascertain this interpretation.

Within the taphonomic group of consumption refuse, a subdivision must be made between slaughter remains, kitchen refuse and table leftovers. This interpretational exercise is especially meaningful because it illuminates the chain of food preparation activities within the building. Within that context, it is striking that the bird remains are characterised by the presence of almost all skeletal elements, except the bones from the tips of the wings, and even elements associated with the intestines (tracheal rings and gastroliths) that are normally removed before cooking. This could suggest that whole birds were brought in, and were prepared on the spot, of which only skin and plumage (with the small bones of the wings still attached) was taken outside. Alternatively, it could be envisaged that birds were brought into the building with their skin and plumage already removed (thus already prepared for cooking), although the presence of the gastroliths and tracheal rings would imply that the intestines were not yet removed.

The larger mammals present similar interpretation problems. In the case of cattle, slaughter remains (e.g. horncores) seem to be absent, but from sheep and pig most parts of the skeleton apparently ended up in the contexts investigated. This could imply that the processing of carcasses took place within the building complex or, perhaps more likely, that all parts of the animals (including those that normally have been left at the processing place) were also used as ingredients in the meals.