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R Soc Open Sci. 2018 Jan 10;5(1):171528. doi: 10.1098/rsos.171528. eCollection 2018 Jan.

A glimpse of an ancient agricultural ecosystem based on remains of micromammals in the Byzantine Negev Desert.

Author information

1
Zinman Institute of Archaeology, University of Haifa, Mount Carmel 3498838, Israel.

Abstract

It is widely believed that Byzantine agriculture in the Negev Desert (fourth to seventh century Common Era; CE), with widespread construction of terraces and dams, altered local landscapes. However, no direct evidence in archaeological sites yet exists to test this assumption. We uncovered large amounts of small mammalian remains (rodents and insectivores) within agricultural installations built near fields, providing a new line of evidence for reconstructing anthropogenic impact on local habitats. Abandonment layers furnished high abundances of remains, whereas much smaller numbers were retrieved from the period of human use of the structures. Digestion marks are present in low frequencies (20% of long bones and teeth), with a light degree of impact, which indicate the role of owls (e.g. Tyto alba) as the principal means of accumulation. The most common taxa-gerbils (Gerbillus spp.) and jirds (Meriones spp.)-occur in nearly equal frequencies, which do not correspond with any modern Negev communities, where gerbils predominate in sandy low-precipitation environments and jirds in loessial, higher-precipitation ones. Although low-level climate change cannot be ruled out, the results suggest that Byzantine agriculture allowed jirds to colonize sandy anthropogenic habitats with other gerbilids and commensal mice and rats.

KEYWORDS:

Byzantine period; Southern Levant; anthropogenic impacts; micromammals; palaeozoology

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