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[An Archaeologist’s Guide to British Species] #14: Badger

March 4, 2021

In 2021, I am blogging an A-Z compendium of human interactions with species in the British landscape. A list of references for information used in this series can be found here. Today we start the letter B

Skull of a badger
Skull of Meles meles. Photo by Klaus Rassinger und Gerhard Cammerer, Museum Wiesbaden. CC BY-SA 3.0

European Badger

Meles meles (Linnaeus, 1758)

Also known as brock, bawson, pate, grey and badget

An omnivorous mammal in the same family as stoats and weasels, badgers have a barrel-shaped body with short legs and a short, blunt tail. They have a coat of coarse hairs which are greyish-white with a black band at the tip, giving the animal a grey appearance from a distance. The fur on the  legs and underside is black, and the badger has a white head with a black stripe over each ear and eye. The black fur from the belly is the preferred source of bristles for shaving brushes. They are found throughout these islands, and are nocturnal. They live in an underground home or sett, which consists of several chambers and tunnels. Setts have several entrances, and there are a number of small latrine pits dug close by. Badger sows give birth to one to five cubs in February. 

Badger meat has not commonly been consumed in Britain, although according to the December 1949 issue of Southern Electricity, ‘the house journal of the Southern Electricity Board’, an annual badger feast was held on Christmas Eve at “Round the Cow Inn” (presumably the Cow Inn, now a private house) in Ilchester in Somerset, where a badger carcass was roast over an open fire, and in exchange for a small charity donation, visitors could baste the badger and eat a portion when it is cooked. A later article in the same issue states that badgers were part of past Christmas meals in England. 

Perforated and decorated badger teeth beads are known from the late glacial site of Kendrick’s Cave near Llandudno. A badger mandible from a Norman context and a metapodia from an late medieval/ post-medieval barbican well at Norwich Castle were interpreted as evidence of its exploitation for fur, possibly arriving at the site attached to pelts.

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