Landscape Interactions and Zooarchaeology

Faunal Interest Group Symposium

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Paper  Abstracts:


Keynote Speaker: Dr. Lesley Howse (McGill University)


Lesley has recently completed her PhD at the University of Toronto. Most generally, her research focuses on how pre-contact societies navigated the Arctic landscape in the face of changing physical environments and socio-political circumstances and is primarily approached through zooarchaeological analyses. Her PhD research examined human-animal relationships within Late Dorset (500 CE to 1300 CE) and Thule Inuit (1200 CE to 1500 CE) societies of the Canadian Arctic and Greenland. By exploring the role of distinctive hunting technologies this research provided a nuanced understanding of how cultural factors influenced human-animal interactions. She is currently a post-doctoral fellow at McGill University where she is pursuing a diachronic study of Northern subsistence strategies, and examining the sustainability of Dorset Paleo-Inuit subsistence practices at Alarniq—one of the largest Paleo-Inuit sites in the Canadian Arctic and Greenland, located in northern Foxe Basin. She has extensive fieldwork experience participating in archaeology projects across the Canadian Arctic, Greenland and beyond, and in addition to these regions she has conducted zooarchaeological analyses on material from Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and Ontario.



Adam Allentuck (University of Toronto, University College London), Arlene M. Rosen (University of Texas at Austin)


The Risky Business of Keeping Pigs during Periods of Climatic Fluctuation: A Case from the Mid-Holocene Near East


Palaeoclimatic records of the Near East show that the late fourth millennium BC was characterized by high degree of short-term variability in rainfall. The effects of unpredictable precipitation on prehistoric agriculture are well known, but their effects on prehistoric livestock husbandry are not as well established. While sheep, goat and cattle are fairly tolerant of moderate vacillations between humid and arid conditions, pigs require a plentiful and dependable source of water in order to thrive. It is for this reason that a high abundance of pigs in archaeological assemblages is commonly taken as a corollary of humid environmental conditions. This presentation examines the faunal assemblage from the site of Hartuv, a Late Early Bronze I (3150-3100 cal. BC) village in central Israel. Pig remains are unusually abundant at this site that was occupied during a period of climatic uncertainty. An attempt to reconcile seemingly contradictory data—high relative taxonomic abundance of pig and climatic conditions characterized by a general aridification trend and rainfall instability—is made by considering zooarchaeological assemblages from nearby sites in the context of their hydrological settings. On the basis of geomorphological evidence, we conclude that the effects of variable rainfall at Hartuv were mitigated by a localized marshy environment and a possible anthropogenic landscape feature, which may have been used to store water.



Michelle Cameron (University of Toronto)


The Riet River Sites: Positioning Regional Diversity in the Introduction of Domesticated Livestock in Southern Africa


The introduction of domesticated livestock to southernmost Africa influenced both human-environment interactions and human-animal relations. This process did not occur in a uniform manner across the southern Cape region. Regional studies may therefore contribute to broader narratives regarding this process, which occurred towards the end of the Later Stone Age. Archaeological sites located in the semiarid central interior of southern Africa, particularly along the course of the Riet River (approximately 1 000 – 200 bp), provide some insight into this socioenvironmental transition.

To investigate the introduction of domesticated livestock in the Riet River region, a variety of archaeological methods have been applied. Stable isotopic evidence from human skeletal remains suggests high reliance on wild fauna rather than domesticated livestock, indicating overlap with foraging lifeways. Analyses of local stone-walled settlement areas and enclosures indicate changing landscape use and changing relations with animals. However, zooarchaeological evidence requires further probing. This paper will outline the unique Riet River context within the broader southern African Later Stone Age narrative, and will outline how zooarchaeological methods may contribute to our theoretical understanding of how the introduction of domesticated livestock impacted human groups in southernmost Africa.


Michaela Ecker (University of Toronto)


Exploring Landscape Use and Predator-Prey Relationships using Tooth Enamel Stable Isotopes


Stable light isotope analysis is an established method to explore landscape use of animals and humans in environments where collagen is well preserved. Carbonate stable isotopes on tooth enamel is an alternative method for samples where collagen is not preserved. This approach has shown success in tropical environments where carbon isotope analysis can easily distinguish between co-existing C3 and C4 plants. In more temperate latitudes, where all plants use the C3 photosynthetic pathway, this approach is used less frequently. However, environmental factors that influence the carbon and oxygen isotope composition in enamel can be used to explore niche partitioning of herbivores and carnivores.

This case study explores the Early Middle Paleolithic site of Payre (c. 250,000 to 125,000 years before present), located in the Rhone valley in southern France. The carbon and oxygen isotopic values of Neanderthal enamel are compared with those of their potential prey as well as potential competitors to reconstruct hunting behavior, diet and habitat use through a palaeoecological reconstruction. The results revealed the niche partitioning of herbivores in the diverse landscape around Payre. Carnivores and Neanderthals can be associated with preferred hunting in some of those niches (1). Further new results are challenging established theories about rather inflexible exploitation of the environment by Neanderthals, one of many possible causes of their extinction (2). This example is used to discuss how the combination of stable isotope and zooarchaeological analysis can advance our understanding, even in pure C3 environments.



Tamsyn Fraser (University of Sheffield)


Livestock and Landscape: Livestock Improvement and Landscape Enclosure in Late and Post-Medieval England


The process of livestock improvement in England is documented both historically and zooarcheologically, occurring as early as the 13th century and continuing until the modern era. It is often associated with the contentious notion of the ‘Agricultural Revolution’, which is poorly understood in terms of timing, nature, and cause. Recent consensus suggests that key agricultural developments occurred in the later medieval period, with zooarchaeological studies identifying alterations to animal size, shape and age patterns during this time. Another feature often associated with the ‘Agricultural Revolution’ is landscape organisation. Much enclosure occurred through agreement or piecemeal amalgamation during the late medieval period, which suggests that changes in land organisation may have contributed to the livestock change of this time.

Historians propose several ways that land enclosure may have contributed to animal husbandry improvement, for example greater control over food, breeding and disease. However, there has been little direct association attempted between landscape change and livestock improvement for specific case studies. Furthermore, zooarchaeological assessment has previously focused on urban areas, where the geographical origin of livestock is uncertain. This study gives a more accurate insight into changing local husbandry strategies at their source by examining zooarchaeological material from three rural sites across England. The evidence of livestock size change from these case studies is compared to land organization from the immediate area, using the local historical record and landscape archaeology to investigate the scale and timing of enclosure. Evidently landscape change occurred in a varied manner across England; therefore, case studies have been selected from areas with markedly differing enclosure mechanisms to assess how this affected livestock change and how advancements proliferated across the country. Overall, this provides a more detailed comprehension of the mechanism and timing of agricultural advancement, and therefore a better understanding of the development of English agriculture, husbandry and economy.


Haskel J. Greenfield (University of Manitoba), Elizabeth R. Arnold (Grand Valley State University), Tina L. Greenfield (University of Manitoba), Aren M. Maeir (Bar-Ilan University)


The ‘Desert and the Sown’: Domestic Animal Exploitation and Management Strategies during the Early Bronze Age at Tell es-Safi/Bath, Israel


In this paper, we reexamine the concept that the evolution of early urban and state-level societies was accompanied by productive specialization, especially in food provisioning. It is often envisioned that early urban settlements, particularly in the Near East during the Early Bronze Age, were supported by many smaller satellite settlements where foods were produced and ultimately transferred to the urban settlements for distribution and consumption. This model assumes that the urban populations could not support themselves from their local hinterland and were reliant upon the rural areas for excess food produce. In addition, there is the debate about whether the urban populations were provisioned with animal products by specialised pastoralists living in the agriculturally-marginal and distant environmental zones. In this paper, we reexamine these models, particularly in relation to domestic animal production. Zooarchaeological and isotopic data from the Early Bronze Age III excavations at Tell es-Safi/Gath and the surrounding landscape are used to determine the nature of domestic animal consumption at the site, where the animals were raised, seasonality of birth, and the herd management strategies. Tentatively, the data do not support the model that the domestic livestock recovered from this early urban centre was produced by specialised pastoralists exploiting distant pastures in marginal environments (e.g. the Negev).



Alicia L. Hawkins (Laurentian University), Suzanne Needs-Howarth (Trent University, University of Toronto), Trevor J. Orchard (University of Toronto), Eric J. Guiry (University of British Columbia)


Beyond the Local Fishing Hole: Towards a Pan-Regional Perspective on Salmonid Fishing in Iroquoian Ontario


During the Late Woodland period (A.D. 1100–1650), Iroquoian-speaking people in Ontario met their nutritional needs through a combination of maize horticulture, gathering, hunting, and fishing – using harvesting localities both close to and away from their villages. Recent research (Pfeiffer et al. 2016, American Antiquity 81(3)) suggests that the protein component in the diet must have come in part from high trophic level fish. The main candidates are walleye/sauger (Sander spp.) and several taxa in the family Salmonidae, namely, non-anadromous Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush), and whitefishes (Coregonus spp.). Because the latter two taxa spend all their life in lake environments, whereas the former two come upriver to spawn, their exploitation entails quite different interactions with the landscape.


More than forty years of zooarchaeological identification of fish bones in Ontario has resulted in a large database that has rarely been put to use in an integrated manner. The spatial dimensions of this database are underutilized, in part because of issues of access and data quality. In this paper, we present a pilot study summarizing some of the available data, and we use GIS to provide a broad spatiotemporal overview of key taxa on Iroquoian sites in Ontario. Our preliminary interpretations highlight the importance of Salmonidae taxa and examine their archaeological distribution to help understand the landscape use associated with this important component of the Aboriginal fisheries. We also discuss (and attempt to reconcile) issues concerning the use of data from widely differing excavation and identification histories.



Megan Hicks (City University of New York)


Animal Economies, Toponyms, and Taskscape in Northern Iceland


In Iceland, animal derived foods and objects made up the majority of the diets, products, and commodities from the late 9th century through the mid 20th century. This means that a significant proportion of any person´s labor and livelihood was based around such activities as: caring for animals, pursuit of wild catches, managing semi domesticated species, and in the creation of finished objects and products derived from animal bodies. This paper combines the rich (albeit chronologically compressed) toponymic (placename) assemblage alongside chronologically controlled zooarchaeogical data sets which provide specific information on animal economies over several centuries within one large farm territory and community of Mývatnssveit N. Iceland (Hicks 2010, Hicks 2014, Hicks et al 2016). Through these two main fields of evidence, this work investigates the repetitive multispecies activities - seasonal herding, fishing, and birding - involved in the production of persistent socially meaningful spaces and taskscapes (Lefebvre 1974, Ingold 1991). The work also moves one step beyond a spatial agenda, by thinking about the way in which repetitive, shared activity in the landscape as actualizing group membership (following Rizvi 2015). By bringing these ideas into relationship with zooarchaeological evidence, (evidence of economic production and material practices) the author hopes to expand outsider perspectives on the social insights possible through a zooarchaeological approach which is often vastly oversimplified as “environmental evidence”.


Mary C. Metzger (Vancouver Community College)


Social Zooarchaeology of Sheep and Goat Husbandry at two Bronze Age Sites in Jordan and Cyprus


Excavations at two Bronze Age settlements in Jordan and in Cyprus provide zooarchaeological evidence that can offer a holistic perspective of husbandry that considers the social roles of sheep and goats, in addition to their economic value. Tell Abu en-Ni`aj comprises an area of approximately 2.5 ha and is located in the northern Jordan Valley. Radiocarbon testing estimates an occupation history that began 2600-2500 cal BC and ended 2100-2000 cal BC. Herding of domestic sheep and goats anchored the village animal economy that was supplemented by pig husbandry. Herd security seems to have been the dominant ovicaprid husbandry goal. However, two additional strands of evidence point to other signifiers of value. Limited woodland resources meant that the villagers of Tell Abu en-Ni`aj relied almost exclusively on dung for fuel. Further, several nearly intact skeletons of lambs were recovered within one precinct of the site. The consistent spatial orientation and relatively good preservation suggests that the animals were deliberately interred. The Bronze Age site of Politiko-Troullia is located in the northern foothills of the Troodos Mountains. The residents of the ancient community had access to adjacent perennial streams and to woodlands. Radiocarbon dating indicates an occupation of 2198-1771 cal BC. Ovicaprids dominated the domestic animal economy with secondary reliance on cattle. Large numbers of bones from Mesopotamian fallow deer (Dama mesopotamica) attest to successful exploitation of this species. Bones of sheep and goats were recovered in all excavated units, including architectural alleyways. In addition, large numbers of bones were retrieved in a courtyard area associated with communal feasting activities. Preliminary analysis of the ovicaprid carcass distribution patterns throughout the excavated areas suggests that while sheep and goats represented important sources of protein at the household level, these animals had considerable value for the community’s socially significant communal gatherings.


Nina Manaseryan (Institute of Zoology NAS RA)


Human-Animal Interrelation in Ancient Armenia


The extinction of entire philogenetic lineages or of individual animal species is a complicated process dependent on geological, biological, physical, and other factors. With reference to the presence of fossil remains of species in archaeological sites the conditions of the Armenian fauna should be analyzed at one of the most interesting periods of the animal world development, i.e. during the Holocene. Distinguishing features of that epoch are the foundation of the human society who used the resources of alive and non-alive nature, as well as intermediate effect of the human on the development and formation of vertebrate fauna. Literary data inform us that at transition period from the Pleistocene to the Holocene, which is characterized by degradation of mountain ice of the last glaciations, obvious changes are observed in the animal world - reformation, annihilation, adaptation (Vereshchagin 1971). They all have made a strong impact on fauna state. At  the  early  Holocene  the  scattering  of  the  majority  of  the vertebrates resembled  the  area  existed  in  the  final Pleistocene  (only the  dwarf  and  fleecy  rhinoceros  were  annihilated).  The lowland forests of Araks river basin were full of beaver; in the highland forest zone, e.g. Sevan-lake basin, a Caucasian bison was in a great number in the early Holocene. Everywhere  there  were found a wild boar, roe,  gazelle, red deer, while along the Ararat valley  and Shirak  a wild  horse  was  known,  and in  the  Araks  river lowlands  onager  was  inhabited.  In humid forests of the present day Irum there were found a Caucasian relict elk.  In all mountainous systems of Armenia the moufflons and Bezoar goats were found. Transition from the climatic conditions of late glacial period of comparatively warm climate of the postglacial period was closely bound with the aridity caused by the decrease of damp biotopes and wide-scale distribution of aridity-addict vertebrates. The invasion of warn-loving fauna: fallow deer, one hump camel, buffalo onto the Armenian Plateau occurs in the Early Holocene. But in   the  middle  Holocene  (by archaeological dates  this  period  in  Armenia  includes  late  Neolith,  Eneolith  and  Bronze ages) the change of climate conditions resulted in changes  of natural habitat  and reduction  of  the vertebrates   number.  Wooded  basin of Sevan-lake  changed  for sparse growth  of  trees  with  some  relic  forests  that  formed  islands.  Vast  steppe  area  appeared,  which  promoted  reduction  of  areas  followed  by bison  annihilation. Change  of  natural  biotypes  and  wide  spreading  of  cultural  landscape (human indirect effect) since  the  end  of  the 2nd  millennium  B.C.  have  induced  a  noticeable  reduction  of  onager  and  gazelle  in  number,  which were mainly spread  all over  the  lowlands.


Stephen Rhodes (University of Toronto)


Indicators of Landscape at Nachcharini Cave, Lebanon


Nachcharini Cave presents evidence from three successive time periods of the early Holocene Near East, spanning the cold and dry Younger Dryas and the subsequent Pre-Boreal climatic amelioration.  The site is located in an alpine environment at 2100 metres asl, which is extremely rare for Levantine sites.  The faunal remains include the bones of a number of ungulate species reflecting a variety of habitat preferences.  Taphonomic analysis of remains from the Natufian, PPNA, and PPNB periods at Nachcharini show significant differences in formation processes between these units.  Modifications observed on bone here include cutmarks, scavenger gnawing, fracture morphology, impact notching, burning, weathering, and possible rockfall from the cave roof.  Analysis suggests a predominance of fresh fractures from all three time periods, with frequencies of secondary fractures changing over time.  Changes in the frequency and orientation of cut marks are also noted between time periods and spatially within periods, revealing information about butchery practices and strategies.  Additionally, carnivore access to the fauna appears to increase throughout these periods.  This paper will examine the significance of these findings in light of implications for the distinct landscape surrounding the site.


Jessica E. Watson (University of Albany)


Human Interactions with Late Holocene Environments along the New England Coast: Preliminary Results from Frisby Butler


Humans have lived on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts for over 5,000 years, creating nuanced prehistoric societies connected to the Atlantic Ocean and mainland North America. The descendant community of the most recent cultural group, the Wampanoag, continue to thrive on the island today. Based on ethnohistoric and tribal accounts, archaeologists have developed a basic understanding of the first inhabitants on the island. This paper seeks to integrate new zooarchaeological data into this system to answer: how does Martha’s Vineyard relate to the ecological and cultural history of the Northeastern Atlantic seaboard?


In this paper, I examine the animal bone data from archaeological sites in western Martha’s Vineyard for new evidence of human interactions with the environment during the Late Holocene (ca. 5,000 – 1,000 B.P.) and its role in shaping cultural practices of early societies along the coast. This discussion will focus on the Frisby Butler site, a collection of over 18,000 bones curated at the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Anthropology. Results will examine the diverse assemblage for markers of environmental change and address the role of humans therein.