The Archaeology and History of Rabbits, Pillow Mounds and Warrens
by Deborah Overton
Thursday 4th December 2014
Archaeologists beware! You may have thought you’d found a long barrow, but it may only be a pillow mound – a habitation for rabbits designed in medieval times when these creatures were luxury items, prized by the nobility for their meat and especially their fur! Several archaeologists seem to have fallen into this error, as Deborah Overton, lately retired from the Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service, explained in her fascinating talk.
Originally from Spain, rabbits were introduced into this country by the Normans. Would you believe they were delicate creatures who hated our cold, damp conditions and took centuries to become acclimatised? Illustrating her talk with some amazing pictures from medieval manuscripts, Deborah explained about the husbandry of rabbits and the export industry that grew up around their rearing. The sumptuary laws at first prevented the wearing of rabbit skins by any other than members of the aristocracy (peasants were only allowed to wear sheepskin, apparently). However, the aspiring merchant classes eventually gained the right to impress their friends with a wide variety of sumptuous furs, home grown and imported. (Pity the poor little Baltic Squirrel who has a white furry tummy much prized in medieval garments.)
This was the VEHS Christmas meeting and the light-hearted talk was very much to the taste of the audience who joined in a lively discussion afterwards over coffee and mince pies!