Until now the Late Neolithic period of Northern Syria (c. 6900 to 5300 BC) has remained somewhat of an enigma, despite the fact that it is acknowledged as one of the most important stages of history in the Near East. It is a period that shows a vast amount of regional differentiation in terms of site types, chronologies, material culture and subsistence patterns, yet it is period for which there are pitifully few comprehensively excavated, analysed and published sites. It is this intriguing period of human history that forms the basis of this research, with the site of Tell Sabi Abyad in the Balikh Valley of the northern Syrian dessert steppe forming the central focus. This impressive site has revealed over 1000 years of seemingly uninterrupted occupation, the excavation of which has unveiled a wealth of finds giving an insight into life some 8000 years ago.
One of the most numerous finds is the faunal material; thousands upon thousands of animal bone fragments being all that is left of generations of hunting and farming at and around the site. The remains have been recently studied by Anna Russell, in the form of her Leiden University PhD thesis, entitled: Retracing the Steppes: a Zooarchaeological Analysis of Changing Subsistence Patterns in the Late Neolithic at Tell Sabi Abyad, Northern Syria, c. 6900 to 6900 BC. This book is the result of the research undertaken on this material by Anna Russell for her PhD thesis at Leiden University.
Russell's analysis of the faunal remains has given important and new insights into hunting and farming practices over a millennium. The local spectrum of wild and domestic fauna in the area is discussed together with an assessment of the domestication status of some of the key domestic animals through time – sheep, goats, cattle and pigs - with the methods of herding implemented being carefully elucidated from the zooarchaeology data together with an isotopic study of diet. The relationship between the animals and their natural environment and the possible implications of an abrupt climate change (the ‘8.2 k BP Event’ which peaked c. 6200 BC) on the subsistence patterns of the late Neolithic people of Tell Sabi Abyad are also considered in detail.
This comprehensive zooarchaeological study of the faunal remains, uncovered during the excavations of Tell Sabi Abyad, has not only shown the gradual development of animal husbandry to the detriment to hunting throughout the seventh millennium BC, but has also revealed for the first time one of the earliest uses of domestic animals for secondary products, such as milk and fibre. It has also uncovered evidence that people adapted to changes in their local environment brought about by climate change through local innovation and promotion of cultural adaptations developed as a result of generations of living in a marginal environment. As such this research brings us one step closer to filling the void in our knowledge of this pivotal period at the end of the Neolithic period.
A. Russell (2010) Retracing the Steppes: a Zooarchaeological Analysis of Changing Subsistence Patterns in the Late Neolithic at Tell Sabi Abyad, Northern Syria, c. 6900 to 6900 BC. Leiden: Leiden University (PhD Thesis).
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