Before Farming

Hunting and overhunting in the Levantine Late Middle Palaeolithic

Before Farming (2006), 2006, (3), 1–42.

Abstract

We examine the larger mammals from late Middle Palaeolithic Kebara Cave (Israel), and offer eight principal conclusions concerning Neanderthal hunting activities at the site. (1) Regardless of prey size, most procurement was by hunting, not scavenging. The major prey were gazelle and fallow deer, but also aurochs, red deer, and boar. (2) Hunting was seasonal, with most hunts in winter and/or spring. (3) Hunters took male and female deer in similar numbers, but a preponderance of female gazelle. These sex ratios probably reflect local availability and encounter rates. (4) More juvenile deer than juvenile gazelle were taken. The frequency of juveniles has not been severely impacted by taphonomic processes. Because of their small size and limited body fat, juveniles were probably low-ranked resources by comparison to their adult counterparts and may often have been excluded from the hunters' optimal diet. If so, fluctuations in the numbers of juveniles do not track changes in hunting season, but instead indicate shifts in encounter rates of more highly-ranked adult prey. In dimorphic fallow deer, sub-adult males grow faster than their female counterparts, and therefore may have been targeted more often than sub-adult males in less dimorphic gazelle. (5) Transport decisions were heavily conditioned by prey body size. (6) Burning often resulted from warming defleshed marrow bones. (7) The frequency of red deer and aurochs declined over the course of the sequence, largely unaffected by climate. Overhunting, at least locally, is strongly implicated by this pattern. (8) The proportion of juvenile gazelle and fallow deer increased in the younger levels. If one accepts the view that juveniles are low-ranked resources, regardless of their abundance on the landscape, their increase points to a decline in encounter rates for higher-ranked adults. This pattern again points to overhunting.

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Clark, Jamie