NSF funding will support a three year project directed by Dr. Natalie Munro that will document human impacts on gazelle populations and their implications for the process of animal domestication in southwest Asia. Accumulating evidence indicates that the domestication of goat, sheep and pig was a process that arose out of intensive human hunting traditions in the northern and eastern reaches of the region. Although most attention has focused on the domestic animals themselves, in the southern Levant, the most commonly hunted animal, (the mountain gazelle; Gazella gazella) was never domesticated. Nevertheless, evidence from archaeological gazelle remains has compelled scholars to argue that intensive hunting caused changes in gazelle population structures and average body-size. These interpretations are provocative, but unfortunately incompatible data collection procedures, the publication of conflicting interpretations, methodological problems, and the lack of systematic study have produced inconsistent results. The proposed research aims to address these difficulties by applying standardized data collection protocols, refined methodologies and modern skeletal models to a number of prehistoric gazelle collections from the southern Levant. Such a research program is needed to define the range of potential human impacts on wild animal populations, independent of whether domestication occurred, and assess the role of human hunting pressure and climatic change in the process of agricultural origins in the southern Levant. In particular, this research will contribute to the emerging regional context of plant and animal domestication across the broader Fertile Crescent. As such it complements significant recent projects tracing the evolutionary process from intensive human hunting, to animal management and domestication in sheep and goat and pig.
The project will systematically assess the nature of human-gazelle interactions by integrating models derived from modern skeletal gazelle collections and gazelle remains obtained from 17 archaeological occupations dating between 21,500-8,200 cal BP. The research will be undertaken with the collaboration of Guy Bar-Oz from the University of Haifa in Israel, who has obtained independent funding for his portion of the project. The strength of this project lies in its unprecedented examination of taphonomic, biological, economic and ecological datasets to reconstruct human impacts on past gazelle populations.
Beyond the preceding research goals, this project will integrate Israeli students from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds under its research umbrella; exhibit results from the project at the soon to be renovated Stekelis Museum of Prehistory in the city of Haifa, Israel, for the education and enjoyment of school children and the general public. The project will provide a forum to train graduate students in the full spectrum of activities required by a large-scale research project. The project is a cooperative effort between Israeli (University of Haifa) and American (University of Connecticut) institutions and seeks to cultivate new and lasting scholarly relationships between both senior and student partners through intensive research and collaboration.