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Scientists cast spotlight on seven-horse 13th-century stable

The two construction phases of the stable from the early 1200s.

The two construction phases of the stable from the early 1200s.

Researchers have subjected the remains of a medieval stable to detailed analysis, shining a spotlight on the care of horses in 13th century Central Europe.

The stables were associated with a castle near Veselí nad Moravou in the southeastern part of the Czech Republic in South Moravia.

Medieval stables are quite rare in the central European archaeological record, probably because horses were often left outside on pastures during summer and stables were usually used as a winter refuge only.

The researchers, from Czechoslovakia, Australia and the United States, said the discovery of a Medieval stable in Veselí nad Moravou presented a unique opportunity to study not only the architecture, but also stable maintenance and horse care.

A raft of different analysis techniques were used on material removed from the site.

Horse hair analysis suggested horses from different backgrounds were kept in the stable. They were fed meadow grasses as well as woody vegetation, millet, oat, and less commonly hemp, wheat and rye.

The researchers, whose findings have been published in the open-access journal, PLoS ONE, suggested three possible purposes for the stable: for temporary accommodation of horses belonging to workers employed at the castle, courier horses, or horses used in battle.

In the wider area, only 16 wooden objects were detected, pointing to the location of three structures: a bakery, a hayloft and a stable.

The infill at the stable site was 80 centimetres thick.

Samples tested included horse hair, waste material, pollen, and bedding.

In all, the stable was 14 metres long by 2.5 metres wide, but may have originally been larger. It appeared to have been built in two construction phases.

Rough-hewn posts were used with hurdle fencing – interwoven sticks – used in-between and covered with a thick layer of plaster on both sides.

The roof of the building was supported by timber joists every two meters along the walls.

The entrance was 1.6 metres wide.

In the second part of construction, it appeared it was completely rebuilt, with only the foundations re-used. The construction technique was very similar to the previous one.

In contrast to the original building, the interior of the new building was divided by two partition walls to create three rooms.

Two of the new rooms had a wooden floor. One probably served for superior horses or pregnant mares; the second as a preparation room, the researchers believe.

The organic layers deposited on the floor of the stable originated in the second construction phase and contained evidence of horses, with horse equipment such as shoes, bridle-bits, currycombs, buckles and spurs recovered.

Two complete sickles were also excavated.

It is believed the building could have accommodated seven horses.

The stabling material was composed mainly of wetland grasses and wooden annual shoots.

Dejmal M, Lisá L, Fišáková Nývltová M, Bajer A, Petr L, et al. (2014) Medieval Horse Stable; The Results of Multi Proxy Interdisciplinary Research. PLoS ONE 9(3): e89273. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0089273

The full study can be read here.

The sampling positions within the sediment.

The sampling positions within the sediment.

Horsetalk.co.nz

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