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Managing Risk in Early Complex Societies in Syria-Palestine: An Investigation of Changing Animal Herding Strategies through the 4th-2nd Millennia BC Using Multi-Element Isotopic Analysis

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - MRECS (Managing Risk in Early Complex Societies in Syria-Palestine: An Investigation of Changing Animal Herding Strategies through the 4th-2nd Millennia BC Using Multi-Element Isotopic Analysis)

Okres sprawozdawczy: 2018-08-29 do 2020-08-28

This project (MRECS) investigates the role of pastoral mobility in the subsistence economy that developed during the rise of urban societies in the Levant in the 5th-3rd millennia BCE. While we might suspect this to have been associated with increasingly complex animal management practices, hard evidence for how these practices were modified as socio-economic organisation and land use changed remains lacking. Different groups likely responded in different ways, so that animals consumed at larger sites may have been acquired via a range of mechanisms, including animals raised by the community itself, locally or further afield, or brought to the site through external relationships, which might include trade and exchange.
MRECS considers two regional case studies, the north Jordan Valley (Tell esh-Shuna and Pella, Jordan) and the upper Orontes Valley (Tell Nebi Mend, Syria), which demonstrate different trajectories of development during this period. In the Jordan Valley, the early 3rd millennium BCE is associated with the fluorescence of walled towns, followed by a decline in sedentary settlement during the late 3rd millennium BCE that is often attributed to an increasing focus on pastoralist activities. In contrast, by the mid-3rd millennium BCE, western Syria was part of a wide-ranging system of large, integrated supra-regional economies, as state-level political systems developed and urban settlement expanded into the arid Syrian steppe. It has been proposed that exploitation of economic opportunities provided by a new livestock-based economy lay at the heart of this transformation, representing a fundamental shift in socio-political networks and risk management strategies.
Although material culture and texts provide indications of these major socio-economic changes, this research provides the first reliable means of directly testing these hypotheses by using multi-element isotopic analysis of archaeological animal enamel to examine changes in animal management and herding strategies in the Levant during this period. Sequential intra-tooth analysis of enamel has been successfully used in a variety of regions for elucidating the organisation of animal movements and herding practices using carbon (δ13C), oxygen (δ18O) and strontium (87Sr/86Sr) isotopes.
MRECS thus aimed to examine geographical differences in the patterns and scale of animal movement as identified from isotopic analysis of their skeletal remains, along with their relationship to concomitant changes in socio-political organisation, in order to identify how early state-level societies organised animal management, and how animals were provisioned to early urban centres.
Suitable samples from the Jordan Valley case study sites (Tell esh-Shuna, Pella) were selected and prepared for analysis, representing a period spanning the late 6th-early 3rd millennia BCE. Analysis of δ13C and δ18O was performed and on the basis of these results, samples were selected and analysed for 87Sr/86Sr. This data was then integrated to form interpretations of animal herding strategies. These interpretations, along with the raw data, have been submitted as a scientific peer-reviewed publication, which is now under review. Preliminary results from the Jordan Valley sites were also presented at several academic conferences.
Suitable samples from Tell Nebi Mend were selected and prepared for the Orontes Valley Case study. Analysis of δ13C and δ18O was conducted, and these results were used to select samples for 87Sr/86Sr analysis. A draft publication of the results is being prepared, and is scheduled for submission in Nov. 2020. The results of this case study will also be presented at a (virtual) conference in Nov. 2020.
To supplement MRECS’s analytical budget, a successful application for additional analytical funds was made to the Council for British Research in the Levant. These funds allowed analysis of additional samples that extend the chronological and geographical scope of the original project. These additional samples have undergone δ13C and δ18O analysis, and on the basis of these results, strontium isotope analysis is being conducted, with results anticipated in Oct. 2020. A paper presenting the new expanded dataset and comparing the herding strategies employed in the two case studies is being prepared for submission ca. Dec. 2020.
The 5th-3rd millennia BCE in the Levant are characterised by incipient urbanism and increasing economic specialisation. In the northern Levant especially, this develops by the mid-3rd millennium BCE into state-level urban societies with large, integrated supra-regional palatial economies that controlled substantial territories. The impact of these developments on subsistence economy has been most extensively discussed with regard to the role of agricultural intensification, with animal husbandry receiving less sustained consideration. Although provisioning strategies can be partially addressed through consideration of species representation, mortality profiles and body-part distributions in zooarchaeological assemblages, the mechanisms by which these provisioning systems functioned and the intra- or inter-regional connections they reflect are difficult to reconstruct on this basis.
Isotopic analysis of animal remains by MRECS, however, has provided insight into these mechanisms and connections and has begun to allow reconstruction of provisioning systems. The isotopic analyses performed by MRECS are based on intensive sampling of animals from two sites with complementary occupation sequences in the Jordan Valley (Tell esh-Shuna, Pella) and one long-lived site in the upper Orontes Valley of Syria (Tell Nebi Mend) over an extended period of time. Multi-element isotope analysis (δ13C, δ18O, 87Sr/86Sr) was performed for a total of 567 samples from 51 individual animals, spanning the late 6th-late 3rd millennia BCE. This has provided a unique new dataset permitting the delineation of long-term herding strategies employed at these sites and shifts in these strategies over time. The evidence suggests geographically varied animal management strategies due to regional variations in economic specialization and environmental conditions, and indicates distinct intra-regional temporal shifts in the exploitation of particular environmental zones, suggesting variable strategies of exploitation of sub-optimal zones for pastoral activities. Variation in the exploitation of marginal environments may be related to a combination of shifts in local climate, adaptation of risk management strategies, and changing conceptions of regional territoriality.
These results have been presented in a number of academic venues, with additional presentations planned, and several scientific publications are either in review or in the final stages of preparation for submission. These dissemination activities have demonstrated the ability of isotope analysis to illuminate animal management and provisioning systems in the urban societies of the ancient Near East, encouraging scholars working in the region to employ these methods more widely. The results also demonstrate the utility of legacy excavated materials to answer research questions that were not anticipated during the original excavations (1970s-1990s), offering a model for ways to exploit existing collections and datasets to derive new and theoretically significant research agendas in the absence of opportunities for new data collection.