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The fauna of Anglo-Saxon England was plentiful and varied, and included some animals that have since been made extinct in this country. The vast areas of uninhabited forests, heaths and fells were home to many creatures, in addition to the other wild creatures that inhabited the towns and villages including the domestic animals.
The rubbish also attracted beetles, flies, centipedes and millipedes. The timber buildings suffered from woodworm and supplied an ideal location for woodlice, spiders and wasps. Most people probably had a flea or two, bed-bugs etc; but probably got used to it and groomed each other to rid themselves of such friends.
Outside the city walls, the fields would have supported birds such as starlings, rooks and crows, just as you can see today but in greater abundance. They would also be home to mice and voles and would have supported other unwanted creatures to the farmer such as hares. The advent of the Rabbit had yet to arrive. Interestingly enough, rabbits had come to
britain with the Romans, as can be seen from the bones in their rubbish pits. With the recall of the roman legions and the slow decay in the way of life that the Romans instituted, the rabbits disappear from the archeological record. They are then re-introduced by the Normans from Spain, who farmed them in structures of earth called pillow mounds. Around these were wattle fences, and men to guard them. The guardians were there not to prevent them from escaping but to stop locals from helping themselves. It seems that the rabbit needs certain circumstances to survive, and one of these is a reduction in the population of predators, and open heath to live in. With the Normans cossetting their rabbits, and the slow clearence and demise of local predators, the rabbits future in Britain was assured.
The forests were home to red deer, roe deer (but not fallow, they didn't arrive until the Normans), wild boar, wolves, a few bears, foxes, badgers and various small woodland creatures such as hedgehogs, martens and squirrels. Hollow trees would have been home to bats and owls. Forest birds included pigeons, jays, wood-peckers, sparrow hawks and goshawks. Other familiar woodland birds would also have been seen. Swarms of bees and wasps would also have nested in the forest.
The issue of hunting is not as simple as it may first seem. Coastal communities would have made the most of sea bird eggs, sea weed, shellfish and other fauna that could be gathered. Obviously fish were caught, either trapped or hooked, and these activities are forms of hunting. In addition to fish, sea birds were also hunted and hooked. However, as you examine the more urban communities become, the less hunting for food is a part of the way of life for the people. From the middens, the bones of wild animals make up only a small percentage of the total bone waste created by butchering farm animals. The reasons for this are plain. Hunting is haphazard, even for the best of hunters, whereas farming is almost completely reliable. Most people could not afford the time and expense to go hunting and the larger animals needed a team of men to hunt, with the consequences of an accident being severe, especially with regards to hunting boar.
''Original article by Roland Williamson 2000''