Animal exploitation in the Upper Tigris River valley (Turkey) between the 3rd and the 1st millennia BC

The prehistory and ancient history of the Upper Tigris River valley (in southern Turkey) was poorly known until recently, due to a lack of archaeological researches. Since the last decade, numerous research projects are taking place in this area in order to document the cultural heritage which will be flooded by the lake of the Ilısu Dam in a near future. Despite the recent growth of archaeological investigations between the cities of Bismil and Siirt, many important fields of research haven’t been targeted yet. It is the case for one of the main socioeconomic components of ancient societies: the exploitation of resources from animal origin. This large field of research encompasses many issues related to, among others, the use of the landscape, the economic system and the existence of cultural constraints. In order to answer these questions, the faunal remains from seven settlements were studied. These sites are located on the banks of the Tigris, Botan and Bitlis Rivers. Assemblages were selected from layers dated from the 3rd to the 1st millennia BC. This chronological range has the advantage to be represented in all the selected sites. It was also a period of rapid changes in the political background of the region, with well-defined economic and cultural entities. The study of the faunal remains enables to compare all these settlements in terms of subsistence strategies and socioeconomic choices. It appeared that a diversity of animal exploitation patterns existed in all the chronological phases considered. Besides the exploitation of the main domestic mammals such as cattle, pig and sheep and goat, the exploitations of red deer and equid were important variables. It is argued here that this variability is related to peculiar choices made by the communities inhabiting these settlements. Depending on the period, these choices seem to have been influenced by local environmental conditions on one hand and economic specializations on another hand. The variability in the patterns of animal exploitation should be taken into account when the issue of subsistence strategy is discussed at an inter-regional scale. Indeed, the Upper Tigris area, and especially the small rural settlements studied here, shows a picture much less homogeneous than expected. It is also argued that small settlements embedded in a rural environment should be also studied beside the main large urban settlements. These smaller settlements played an important role in the socioeconomic complexity of the Bronze and Iron Age. Finally, it is argued that small faunal assemblages have a great analytical value when they are studied by the same researcher in order to increase the possibility to compare them with each other. Considering several assemblages together, as it is possible in case of large-scale salvage programs, enables, with the help of multivariate analyses, to confirm the reliability of the patterns observed.


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