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Zooarchaeology and Mobility in the Western Mediterranean: husbandry production from the Late Bronze Age to Late Antiquity

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - ZooMWest (Zooarchaeology and Mobility in the Western Mediterranean: husbandry production from the Late Bronze Age to Late Antiquity)

Reporting period: 2020-04-01 to 2022-01-31

Human survival and success is substantially determined by the ability to move across the landscape and adapt. Consequently, ‘mobility’ is a crucial topic in historical and archaeological research. To overcome the seasonal scarcity of food and the related over-grazing of pastures, it is essential for animal husbandry to move across territories. However, the decision to allow or deny rights of way to mobile people and livestock depends on political judgements. How might these shape animal husbandry production, and society?
The period between the Late Bronze Age and Late Antiquity in the Western Mediterranean witnessed the development of complex societies with a high territorial component, the Roman conquest, and the decline of the Western Roman Empire. Animal husbandry reflects human decisions regarding the management of resources, and the study of livestock rearing in specific geographical locations is possible through the isotopic analysis of ancient animal teeth. Consequently, we can analyse whether the nucleation of power occurring during the Bronze and Iron Ages, the centralization in Roman times and the later re-fragmentation in Late Antiquity transformed animal husbandry production. Crucially, we can then understand how political systems and decisions shaped human mobility through investigating animal production.
ZooMWest brings together isotopic chemistry, ancient DNA, zooarchaeology and geospatial analysis through four related work packages. Other than elucidating long term debates in archaeology –did transhumance exist in prehistoric Europe?–, this multidisciplinary and innovative project will create an open-access database of strontium and oxygen stable isotopes of the Iberian Peninsula and Italy. This database will enable us to refine geographic provenance to any discipline assessing the origin of matter, including geology, forensic studies, and the alimentary industry, as strontium and oxygen are present in many molecules, including organic tissues.
Since the beginning of the project, the research team built a database to register and integrate all the archaeological, zooarchaeological and chemical data available through literature and grey data for the time periods and areas concerned. We also analysed new zooarchaeological contexts to have a better coverage of the periods for which there were not enought data (e.g. Late Antiquity). We succeeded in the integration of the different lines of evidence and we published both case studies and regional syntheses (e.g. Valenzuela-Lamas et al. 2018, PlosOne; Trentacoste et al. 2018; PlosOne; Nieto-Espinet et al. 2021 PlosOne, among others). In addition, we developed a new methodology to analyse dental microwear through texture analysis using confocal microscopy to recognise different herd management strategies in the past (Ibáñez et al. 2020), and we created a dedicated R package for biometrical data analysis in CRAN (zoolog; Pozo et al. 2021). Finally, we refined existing protocols for sampling archaeological material (Valenzuela-Lamas 2020) and did pilot studies to explore the integration of other relevant and non-destructive methodologies (geometric morphometrics) in collaboration with the ERC Demeter (PI Allowen Evin, ISEM-Montpellier).
We are probably the first team in Europe capable of combining zooarchaeological, archaeological and strontium isotopic data in such integrated and diachronic way. Our results reveal that the socio-economic context – in addition to ecology – has a major impact on animal husbandry production through time. We shared our first results with professional herders developing extensive production (i.e. free range) as well as local politicians implementing PAC directives. Our research is changing the perspective about animal mobility during Late Prehistory and Roman times, as well as how territoriality and connectivity have an effect on animal husbandry production. In addition, we are placing archaeology as a valuable resource to understand social and economic processes in the past, and to use this information to inform present-day policies.
Size change of cattle metapodials in the North-Western Mediterranean through time