Exploring the Easter E.g. - Shifting Baselines and Changing Perceptions of Cultural and Biological "Aliens"

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Sch of Humanities

Abstract

Very little of what we see around us in Britain today can be classed as 'native'. When the sea cut off the island from the rest of the continent (c. 8,000 years ago) the flora, fauna and human population were very different. Over millennia, Britain's ecology and culture have been transformed. Change has been the only constant, with population movements being responsible for the island's unique bio-cultural heritage.

Ancient migrations of people, ideas and animals are widely celebrated and incorporated into expressions of British cultural identity. However, the more recent the migrations, the more negative the attitudes towards them. Nowhere is this better exemplified than in discussions about 'native' versus 'alien' status, be it in relation to animals, people, or religious ideologies. In general, native is perceived as positive and 'natural', whereas the term 'alien' is attached negatively to cultural and environmental problems. These perceptions often translate into societal attitudes and policy making, in particular that relating to biodiversity, even though they may result from "shifting baselines".

"Shifting baseline" refers to the phenomenon whereby people consider the socio-environmental circumstances of their childhood to be 'natural' and morally absolute. In the absence of deeper historical and archaeological understanding, these nostalgic ideals are adopted blindly (and often erroneously) as the foundation for decision-making both at a personal level and more broadly in science and policy. This project sets out to investigate the role of shifting baselines and their impact on the value-judgements placed on 'native' and 'alien' animals, people and ideologies through the high-profile and publicly engaging example of Easter.

Easter is the most important event in the Christian calendar, yet astonishingly little is known about when it first appeared in Britain, the origins of its component customs - e.g. the gifting of eggs purportedly delivered by the Easter 'bunny' - or how they coalesced to form current practices. Easter and its associated animals - namely the brown hare, rabbit and chicken - are all 'alien' to Britain. However, they are viewed positively because they arrived in the long-forgotten past. Easter is therefore an excellent example to highlight the impact of shifting baselines and challenge negative attitudes to cultural and biological 'aliens'.

Our team will achieve this by integrating evidence from anthropology, (zoo)archaeology, (art) history, evolutionary biology, law, historical linguistics, natural history and religious studies to answer the following questions:

1. Where and when did modern Easter traditions first begin, when did they arrive in Britain, and how closely correlated are the arrival of religious traditions and the brown hare?

2. What were the bio-cultural, political and religious mechanisms by which:

-The derivatives of Latin Pascha and Germanic forms of Easter spread and interacted with each other in Christian communities in early medieval Europe?

- The rabbit diffused across Europe and replaced the hare as the main Easter animal in later British traditions?

3. Can ancient interactions between the native mountain hare, the introduced brown hare and the rabbit be reconstructed to provide a deeper-time perspective on the impact of 'alien species'?

4. How can the filling of knowledge gaps about human-animal bio-cultural history transform 'native' versus 'alien' discourse at both a societal level and within wildlife management policy?

Addressing these questions will not only close knowledge gaps about Britain's most important religious (but also secular) festival but also those pertaining to iconic animal species. Together these datasets will be workshopped to contextualize and challenge modern cultural attitudes to society, religious beliefs and the natural world. This will be achieved through an exciting and innovative outreach and engagement programme.

Planned Impact

Easter represents a familiar festival, a significant knowledge gap in bio-cultural heritage and a case-study for highlighting the phenomenon of shifting baselines. The entire team will contribute to the project's impact programme, helping to run public debates and high-profile media events. We have identified three main groups, other than academics, with whom we wish to engage: 1) general public, 2) school children, 3) those involved with wildlife management, conservation and policy-making

1. General public. Easter is a subject that generates media interest on an annual basis. We will utilise this power of the festival to engage members of the public in the creation and dissemination of our research but also to encourage societal-level reflection on cultural norms. Collaboration with the Mammal Society provides our project with a citizen science element, with the public supplying information about lagomorph iconography via the existing Mammal Atlas programme/platform. Media coverage (particularly through AHRC/BBC Next Generation Thinker, Alasdair Cochrane) will be tied to our agenda-setting annual public discussion. In order to address shifting baselines at a societal level it is necessary challenge core cultural values. This will be achieved through our research-led nostalgic novel, The Easter Hunt, written by established author Adrian Bott and linked to our exhibitions at Fishbourne Roman Palace and the Horniman Museum, as well as outreach events at literary festivals. This book will be promoted to families but also to our second group.

2. School children. Given that shifting baselines result from the beliefs that are set in childhood/adolescence, it is vital that we engage with young people. Our project fits well with the English history curriculum, particularly Key Stage 2 (impact of the Romans, Anglo-Saxons and Christian conversion) and Key Stage 3/4 (medieval Church and state). Furthermore, as an accessible but multi-faceted festival that weaves together religious and cultural beliefs with animal biogeography (past and present) Easter is an excellent theme to teach across the curriculum at a secondary school level. As such it will be possible to recreate the interdisciplinary nature of our project in microcosm through the school curriculum. We will utilise our existing connections with schools (e.g. artist Ben Frimet, City of London Academy) and educators at a minimum of two UK museums, to generate resources that will complement existing activities and can be rolled out to other educational institutions.

3. Wildlife management and conservation policy makers
'Invasive animals' or 'alien fauna' are often cited as one of the most significant threats to biodiversity, with considerable costs to the British economy. Because of this, there are many NGOs examining their impact; yet government documents reveal how little is actually known about introduced animals and highlight an absence of humanities-led discussion (see reference 1 below). Given the growing recognition that shifting baselines are a problem in wildlife management and that environmental approaches must take account of cultural and temporal entanglements, this project will serve as a powerful example of best practice. By examining the bio-cultural dynamics of European lagomorphs we will provide the evidence to underpin modern policy about the impact and management of these species. Importantly, our results will help to address issues of lagomorph management and conservation since data concerning population viability will be generated as by-products of the broader DNA and zooarchaeological study.

Reference
1) www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/382512/20._invasive_species_2014_final.pdf

Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
AH/N004558/1 25/03/2017 31/12/2017 £676,550
AH/N004558/2 Transfer AH/N004558/1 01/01/2018 31/03/2021 £668,689
 
Description The project is still continuing data collection but we are making significant progress. We have developed methods for separating the remains of brown hare and mountain hare, which means that we are able to map the ancient distribution of both in the archaeological record. So far our study supports the idea that brown hares were introduced to Britain in the Iron Age, confirmed by AMS dating of articulated skeletons. Intriguingly the timing of the arrival of the brown hare (and the form of deposition) appears to mirror that of chickens, suggesting that these two 'Easter Animals' are indeed closely associated. Our primary investigations concerning the existence (or not) of a Celtic hare deity suggest that such a cult did exist and endured into the early medieval period in Ireland and Wales. With regards to rabbits, we have found conclusive evidence in support of a Roman introduction to Britain, and we are in the process of analysing the data more thoroughly. We have been awarded additional funding for more C14 dates on other potential Roman and post-Roman specimens which will allow us to ascertain whether or not the Roman introductions are the ancestors of modern British rabbits. Our team has critically assessed the historical, zooarchaeological and genetic evidence upon which scholarship concerning rabbit domestication is based (i.e. the claim that they were domesticated so that foetal rabbits could be consumed as 'fish' during Lent) and have found that all three strands of data are flawed and do not support the stories that have been built upon them. By integrating these independent lines of evidence, we a gaining new understandings of domestication as a process.

Working with our author (Adrian Bott) and artist (Ben Frimet) we have half a novel completed and a large art installation is being planned for launch at Easter 2021.
Exploitation Route The results will underpin academic research pertaining to natural history, and theology and religious studies. Our study will also generate data that will allow wildlife managers to make better informed decisions. We have identified three main groups, other than academics, who we anticipate will be interested in our research:

1) General public. Easter is a subject that generates media interest on an annual basis. We will utilise this power of the festival to engage members of the public in the creation and dissemination of our research but also to encourage societal-level reflection on cultural norms. Collaboration with the Mammal Society provides our project with a citizen science element, with the public supplying information about lagomorph iconography via . In order to address shifting baselines at a societal level it is necessary challenge core cultural values. This will be achieved through our research-led nostalgic novel, The Easter Hunt, written by established author Adrian Bott and linked to our exhibitions. This book will be promoted to families but also to our second group.

2) School children. Given that shifting baselines result from the beliefs that are set in childhood/adolescence, it is vital that we engage with young people. Our project fits well with the English history curriculum, particularly Key Stage 2 (impact of the Romans, Anglo-Saxons and Christian conversion) and Key Stage 3/4 (medieval Church and state). Furthermore, as an accessible but multi-faceted festival that weaves together religious and cultural beliefs with animal biogeography (past and present) Easter is an excellent theme to teach across the curriculum at a secondary school level. As such it will be possible to recreate the interdisciplinary nature of our project in microcosm through the school curriculum. We will utilise our existing connections with schools and educators at a minimum of two UK museums, to generate resources that will complement existing activities and can be rolled out to other educational institutions.

3) Wildlife management and conservation policy makers. 'Invasive animals' or 'alien fauna' are often cited as one of the most significant threats to biodiversity, with considerable costs to the British economy. Because of this, there are many NGOs examining their impact; yet government documents reveal how little is actually known about introduced animals and highlight an absence of humanities-led discussion. Given the growing recognition that shifting baselines are a problem in wildlife management and that environmental approaches must take account of cultural and temporal entanglements, this project will serve as a powerful example of best practice. By examining the bio-cultural dynamics of European lagomorphs we will provide the evidence to underpin modern policy about the impact and management of these species. Importantly, our results will help to address issues of lagomorph management and conservation since data concerning population viability will be generated as by-products of the broader DNA and zooarchaeological study.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL http://Easter-origins.org
 
Description At Easter 2018 we launched our Ancient Animals App and this has since been used not only by our team as a research tool but also for the citizen science aspect of our research. Other research teams are also using the App; indeed, it has just been incorporated into a funding bid by another group. At Easter 2019 we went public with our Roman Rabbit story and this received high levels of press and public interest. We ran a week of public engagement activities in collaboration with Fishbourne Roman Palace. Knowing that destructive analyses would need to be performed on the rabbit bone, we 3-D scanned it in advance so that was preserved digitally. Print outs of the bone have been made available at Fishbourne, where they are on display as part of an exhibition. For Easter 2020 we will be collaborating with Butser Iron Age farm, to deliver some of our Iron Age findings concerning the brown hare
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description Dating the Dispersal & Domestication of the European Rabbit
Amount £2,106 (GBP)
Funding ID NF/2019/1/9 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start  
 
Description NERC Radiocarbon Dating Facility: Dating the Introduction of Rabbits and Brown Hares to Britain
Amount £3,450 (GBP)
Funding ID NF/2018/1/9 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start  
 
Description Earliest Rabbit at Fishbourne Roman Palace 
Organisation Kent Archaeological Society
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Learned Society 
PI Contribution We have been working on the collections from the Palace and, through this, discovered the earliest directly dated evidence for rabbits in Britain. This formed the basis of our 2019 programme of outreach activities and media coverage.
Collaborator Contribution They opened their museum during the Easter weekend so that we could run activities connected to our research.
Impact The underlying research involved a number of disciplines (archaeology, museology, genetics, isotope analysis, creative writing, classics and art history) and the result has been large media attention. For examples: https://www.archaeology.co.uk/articles/roman-rabbit-discovered-at-fishbourne.htm https://sussexpast.co.uk/news/britains-earliest-rabbit-found-at-fishbourne https://historicengland.org.uk/whats-new/news/earliest-rabbit-found-at-roman-palace/ https://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/archaeology/rabbit-skeleton-roman-remains-arrival-species-invasive-fishbourne-palace-a8874376.html https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-47963324
Start Year 2018
 
Description Mammal Society 
Organisation The Mammal Society
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Our team has been giving the Mammal Society a deeper-time understanding of British fauna.
Collaborator Contribution The Mammal Society has been supporting the development of our 'Ancient Animal' App, which is modelled on their Mammal Tracker app but provides information pertaining to ancient animal representations (art, architecture, artifacts and physical remains). This App will form an important part of our public engagement / citizen science programme but will also allow researchers (commercial zooarchaeologists or academics leading species-specific projects) to upload and search for records. We anticipate that the data gathered will provide evidence to underpin wildlife management policy.
Impact Ancient Animal App - still in final development at the time of submission but will be launched for Easter 2018.
Start Year 2016
 
Title Ancient Animals App 
Description Mobile phone application that allows our team (as well as other researchers and members of the public) to digitally record and geolocate representations of animals (bone, image, artefact) anywhere in the world. 
Type Of Technology Webtool/Application 
Year Produced 2018 
Open Source License? Yes  
Impact The App has been used not only by our team but also by other researchers, notably Eric Tourigny, University of Newcastle for his 'Finding Fido' project. This resulted in the following press coverage. a. Radio interview, BBC Radio 5 Live Drive programme (national radio)(08/01/2019) b. Radio interview, BBC Radio Hertford and Worcester 5 live programme(08/01/2019) c. Radio interview, BBC Radio Newcastle Lisa Shaw programme (10/01/2019) . d. Newspaper interview, The Northern Echo (06/01/2018), Animal Grave Archive to be Created Online. https://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/news/17333673.animal-grave-archive-to-be-created-online/ 
 
Description Fishbourne's Roman Rabbit 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Following our discovery of a Roman period rabbit in the collections at Fishbourne Palace, we press-released our findings to coincide with Easter 2019 and a week of activities at the museum.

This resulted in extensive national newspaper coverage, x11 radio interviews and our project being featured on BBC Breakfast (Dr Ameen represented the project).

The find encouraged considerable public debate
https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/apr/18/romans-in-britain-and-welsh-rabbits
https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/apr/21/burrowing-down-to-carbon-date-roman-rabbits
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/apr/26/hop-into-the-history-of-roman-rabbits

The rabbit bone was listed in the top 10 archaeological finds of the decade https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/dec/28/richard-iii-and-a-roman-rabbit-the-finds-of-the-decade
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Fixing Easter Debate 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We brought together an interdisciplinary group (Archaeology, Theology, Linguistics and Creative Writing) to discuss the origins and shifting nature of Easter. The debate was attended by ~70 people and led to intense discussion. A number of individuals from the audience have signed up to the project as a result.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description The Origins of Easter 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talk to a local archaeology society, attended by ~45 people. Several members of the audience were very keen to get involved with the development of our Ancient Animals App and have agreed to provide all the images from their Nottingham Church Survey.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018