Professor Alan Outram

Research interests

Central Asian Prehistory and the Domestication of the Horse:

Professor Outram's current fieldwork is in Northern Kazakhstan on a collaborative project investigating the Eneolithic, Botai Culture. With substantial funding from the Natural Environment Research Council he has recently demonstrated that the Botai Culture possesses the earliest currently known domestic horses, which were not only eaten and harnessed for riding, but they were also milked. Professor Outram’s research also involves investigating the development of pastoralism from the Neolithic to Bronze Age in Kazakhstan.

Neomilk: The Milking Revolution in Temperate Neolithic Europe

This major inter-disciplinary project is funded by an ERC Advanced Grant (2013-2018) led by Professor Richard P. Evershed (School of Chemistry, Bristol). It explores the introduction and spread of cattle-based agriculture by early Neolithic Linearbandkeramik (LBK) farmers and its implications for modelling the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in Northern and Central Europe during the 6th millennium BC. The Exeter work package particularly addresses variation in taphonomy, butchery patterns and animal fat use across time and space within the LBK, particularly in relation to evidence for dairying. Project PhD student Emily Johnson will be carrying out substantial original zooarchaeological analyses on key sitesaround Europe.

The Archaeology of Fat:

Much of his research has been on the exploitation of bone marrow and grease by people under subsistence stress. In order to study this issue archaeologically, he developed a new methodology for the detailed examination of bone fracture and fragmentation patterns. This research has included the study of bone assemblages from Palaeoeskimo and medieval Norse sites in Greenland, Norse sites in Iceland, a Neolithic site in Sweden, and Mesolithic sites in Britain and Italy. He is now carrying out excavation and analysis of a Plains Indian Village site in South Dakota, where the processing of bison bone for grease appears to be a large-scale activity that may well have involved trade with other, less fat-rich societies further to the south. Professor Outram chaired a session on the Palaeoeconomics of Animal Fats at the International Council for Archaeozoology 2002 conference.

Hunters' Economic Choices:

Professor Outram is interested in the decisions that hunters make when they have killed an animal. How much of it did they use? Which bits did they transport away? Why did they make they choices they did? How much did the choices relate to the environment and dietary needs, to social needs or matters of taste? In order to build up suitable data, he has carried out research, involving experimental butchery, into the food utility and hunting of horses.

Understanding Unusual Treatment of Animal and Human Remains:

At many prehistoric sites animal and human remains are found in mixed deposits and display strange patterns of deposition and treatment. Could these be ritual, cannibalism or just unusual taphonomic circumstances? He has also been employing his bone fracture and fragmentation methodologies to study the unusual treatment of human and animal remains at the Bronze Age ritual site of Velim Skalka, Czech Republic.

Research collaborations

Alan has collaborations with a wide range of international institutions and scholars in relation to various research projects:

Work on horse domestication and pastoralism in Central Asia involves partners at Kokshe Academy (KZ), Karaganda State University (KZ), Institute of Material Culture, Russian Academy of Sciences (RU), Carnegie Museum of Natural History (USA), University of Bristol (UK), University of Cambridge (UK) and University of Copenhagen (DK).

Research into cattle husbandry and milking in the LBK involves collaboration with University of Bristol (UK), University College London (UK), CNRS, Paris (FR) and University of Poznan (PL).

Fieldwork and analyses on the Initial Middle Missouri Culture involves colleagues at Augustana College, SD (USA) and University of Bristol (UK)

These collaborations are very interdisciplinary in nature, involving archaeologists, anthropologists, chemists and molecular geneticists.

Alan is also a participant in the OpenArch EU project that involves a network of open air archaeology museums in England, Wales, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Italy, Spain and Serbia.