Cockfighting in Medieval Norway

Two chicken tarsometatarsi from medieval Norway with their spurs chopped off. Boxes give a close up of the remaining stumps.

 

When PhD student Sam Walker was looking at bird bones from medieval Norway, he noticed a chicken tarsometatarsus with the bony spur, a pointy outgrowth of bone covered by a layer of keratin that projects from the back of the bone in mostly roosters, cut off. Then he found another one. And another one. Now, more than 16 chicken tarsometatarsi from a number of cities in medieval Norway have been found, all with their bony spur partially or complete chopped of. This type of bone modification is typical of cock fighting, an ancient blood sport with a long tradition in many countries. The bony spur is removed and an artificial spur, often made of metal, is attached to the stump. The tarsometatarsi that Sam has found come from all over Norway, suggesting that cockfighting was widespread in medieval Norway. Trading networks between Western Europe and East Asia, where cockfighting has traditionally been very popular, might have introduced cockfighting to Scandinavia. But strangely enough, there is no mention of cockfighting in any historical literature from or about Norway. Why that is the case remains unclear. These peculiar bones therefore look to be the first, and only, evidence we have for cockfighting in Norway.

Walker, S.J. and Meijer, H.J.M., 2020. More than food; evidence for different breeds and cockfighting in Gallus gallus bones in from Medieval and Post-Medieval Norway. Quaternary International 543: 125-134.

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