University of Cambridge > > Pitt-Rivers Archaeological Science Seminar Series > Dung and desert copper - Evaluating 3rd millennium BCE desert subsistence at the macro- and microscales

Dung and desert copper - Evaluating 3rd millennium BCE desert subsistence at the macro- and microscales

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  • UserDr Zachary Dunseth (Brown University)
  • ClockFriday 05 March 2021, 13:15-14:00
  • HouseOnline via zoom.

If you have a question about this talk, please contact Laura Courto.

A massive settlement phenomenon characterizes the arid Negev Highlands (southern Israel) during the Intermediate Bronze Age (IBA) (ca. 2500-1950 BCE ). However, the subsistence practices of this large desert population are poorly understood. Previous work has suggested the existence of two complementary elements during the period: large central sites specialized in copper processing and production, and smaller ephemeral sites supported by nomadic-pastoralism. Both settlement types have been assumed to have practiced livestock rearing and dry seasonal farming. However, to date, these assumptions have been based on ceramic typologies, presence of flint blades, grinding stones, and scant zooarchaeological assemblages. Direct evidence for either herding or cultivation is non-existent. Recent geoarchaeological work at other sites in the Negev Highlands showed the potential for recovering direct evidence for subsistence practices through the identification of sediments containing degraded animal dung, followed by the analysis of phytoliths from this material. The latter reflect animal foddering practices, and thus whether cereal cultivation was carried out. Following this approach, two large and two smaller IBA sites were excavated. The excavations focused on sediment sampling from varied contexts (habitation floors, courtyards, pits etc.). Analyses included mineralogical characterization via FTIR spectroscopy, extraction and quantification of phytoliths as well as morphotype analysis, extraction and quantification of ash pseudomorphs and dung spherulites, and XRF analyses to detect evidence for copper production/processing. The results show the presence of ancient livestock dung at the ephemeral sites, with phytolith assemblages indicative of free-ranging animal husbandry. In contrast, the two central sites show no evidence for any type of food production or copper processing activities. These results force a new discussion about subsistence and society at central sites and the role of larger international economies in the arid Negev Highlands during the third millennium BCE .

This talk is part of the Pitt-Rivers Archaeological Science Seminar Series series.

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