Joshua C White
Bournemouth University – BA (Hons) Prehistoric and Roman Archaeology
University of York – MSc Zooarchaeology
What got you in to history? In to equine history?
I first went on a field excavation school around 14 years of age and I haven’t looked back since. It ticked all the boxes as I loved learning about the past and loved being outside. And I still do at 24, however being on-site in the middle of winter does sometimes make me question that decision I made ten years ago.
I’ve always had a fascination for animals, particularly how humans interact with them in a variety of contexts. In an attempt to blend this interest with my archaeological studies, the discipline of zooarchaeology just seemed like the perfect home for me. And yes it is the horse out of all animals that I am primarily concerned with, which I think is simply down to personal bias through having a significant level of exposure to horses from a young age and being an equestrian myself. Human history has ridden on the back of a horse and I just find myself drawn to exploring it more and more.
Who is your favourite historical horse?
A difficult question to answer, but I think I would have to go with Incitatus, the horse of the Emperor Caligula. The story of this little equid is utterly unique and entirely bizarre, thus I find him completely fascinating. Suetonius lists that Incitatus had his own house, a stall of marble, a manger of ivory, blankets of purple dye, a collar decorated with precious gems and numerous personal slaves. The standing of this horse, at least in Caligula’s eyes can be ascertained through the decrees apparently sent out to soldiers passing through the neighbourhood, ordering them to be silent as to not disturb Incitatus. In addition to this it is reported that the Emperor had promised his favourite horse that he would make him consul! The validity of the statements made by individuals writing around one hundred years after his death can be heavily questioned; however Incitatus (even in a legendry capacity) stands out as one of the most notable horses from the Roman world.
In many ways Incitatus is probably more relevant today than people consider. In many ways, the luxurious and extravagant lifestyle he had is secretly what most modern day owners aspire to replicate or achieve for their horses. Although I am yet to come across an animal with a head collar of precious gems, I do frequently encounter horses that have in their possession numerous slaves.
What are you working on right now?
I am currently researching horse husbandry practices in Iron Age Britain. In zooarchaeological terms horses are a bit of an oddity as we usually talk about animals in terms of the exploitation of primary and secondary products, trying to quantify the economic significance of for example cattle, sheep and pigs. Through not providing a ‘product’, the economic contribution that horses make is more ambiguous and difficult to quantify in numerical terms, thus the mechanisms behind their husbandry are often overlooked. For the Iron Age in Britain this is currently the case and I am in the process of assessing the current state of our knowledge, going out and collating data on horse remains from this period, and essentially establishing a new model for how horse were managed in the 1st millennium BCE. This originally started off as my Master’s dissertation and has spilled over into something else. I’m currently in the process of drafting up two papers to publish my findings.