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gazelles on a roasting spit

30 March 2016
Ancient history

At http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/spring-2016/article/teeth-from-natu… … and the same story has been at PhysOrg and Science Daily. Gazelles were a prized part of the diet of Natufian hunter gatherers during the Bolling-Alleroed phase of climate (between the end of the Ice Age and the Younger Dryas period) and continued into the latter, maintaining a high part of their diet in what was thought to be an extremely dry period (the Younger Dryas). The appetite for gazelles is amply described by Steven Mithen in his opus, 'After the Ice' (Weidenfeld and Nicolson:2003), one of the best books on the archaeology of the world from 20,000 years ago to more recent times. Apparently, a new team of researchers has found that climate conditions in the eastern Mediterranean and Levant were not as dry as alleged. The idea of cooler temperatures remains true but it was not dry but moist. This is why gazelles continued to thrive and why they were hunted even when people started to cultivate wild cereals. Nothing surprising here really as we already know the Sahara was not a desert – or is that something else that has to be re-evaluated? Most of the speculation here (as in Mithen's book) is about hunter gatherers settling down to become cultivators when in all likelihood considerable overlap occurred. The Natufians are thought to be the ancestors of later Levantine agriculturists so I suppose it is an important issue – but do we have evidence of them controlling the gazelle herds and managing them in a sustainable manner? If so the Natufians were practising an early form of pastoralism – before and during the Younger Dryas.

The research was published in PNAS (March 2016) and is important in that the idea the Younger Dryas was a global phenomenon stands – but it was not always as disastrous for humans as normally portrayed.

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