Professor Alan Outram

Research interests

Central Asian Prehistory, Horse Domestication and Origins of Steppe Pastoralism:

Professor Outram has worked in Northern and Central Kazakhstan on collaborative projects investigating the Eneolithic Botai Culture, horse domestication and and the origins of steppe pastoralism since the year 2000. With substantial funding from the Natural Environment Research Council he has demonstrated that the Botai Culture possesses the earliest currently known domestic horses, which were not only eaten and harnessed for riding, but  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

Prof. Outram is a senior researcher on 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. There is a particular focus on the origins of dairying as a major component of economy. The Exeter work package particularly addresses variation in taphonomy, butchery patterns and animal fat use across time and space within the LBK. Project PhD student, now post-doc, Emily Johnson has been carrying out substantial original zooarchaeological analyses on key sites around Europe. The NeoMilk project has its own website:

PEGASUS: The Makeup of the Modern Horse: a History of the Biological Changes Introduced by Human Management.

Prof. Outram is engaged as a senior researcher on a project led by Prof Ludovic Orlando (CNRS Toulouse). The horse provided us with rapid transportation, an almost unrivaled secondary product that tremendously impacted the politico-economical trajectory of our societies, revolutionizing the circulation of ideas, people, languages, religions and communication. Horse chariotry and cavalry also changed warfare and beyond the battlefield new equestrian technologies have stimulated agricultural productivity. However, the 5,500 year long history of horse domestication and management, which transformed the natural evolutionary trajectory of wild horses into the more than 625 domestic breeds living today, is difficult to reconstruct from archaeology, history and modern genetics alone. Yet, with archaeogenetics, one can access the genetic information from past individuals and track in great detail past population trajectories. In this project, we will build on the latest advances in the analysis of ancient DNA molecules to gather new genomic, epigenomic and metagenomic information from ancient horses. This will be integrated with archaeozoological, isotopic and historical data to enhance our understanding of the multiple processes underlying the transformation of the animal that perhaps most impacted human history. The Pegasus Project has its own website here:

Initial Middle Missouri Archaeology: The First Farmers of the Northern Plains of America

Professor Outram has, for more than a decade, co-directed excavations at Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village. This is an Initial Middle Missouri Culture site belonging to the period when farmers first settled in villages in the Northern Plains to grow crops such as maize, beans and squash. These farmers did not have domestic food animals, only dogs, but also hunted bison in large quantities as well as other game, fished and collected shellfish and other wild foods. These excavations are conducted in conjunction with Dr Adrien L. Hannus of Augustana University.

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 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.

Bone Fracture and Fragmentation: Constructing Taphonomic Histories

Professor Outram is recognised as an authority on how bone fractures and fragments under different conditions and has carried out many experiments to investigate this issue. He is widely published on how fracture and fragmention patterns can help us understand the taphonomic history of human and animal bone assemblages for purposes such as understanding butchery, food processing, site formation processes, cannibalism and undertaking forensic investigations.

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.

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.

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 has involved partners at Kokshe Academy (KZ), Karaganda State University (KZ), Pavlodar 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 University, SD (USA) and University of Bristol (UK)

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

Alan was 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.