In a recent article in Newsweek and in light of the upcoming holiday season, UCONN Professor of Anthropology, Natalie Munro, presents evidence for evidence of a 12000-year-old holiday feast in the Hilazon Tachtit cave in northern Israel. This archaeological site was discovered and excavated by Professor Munro and her colleague Dr. Leore Grosman of the Hebrew University in the late 1990s. The site includes, among other things, the tomb of a “shaman:” the special burial of an older woman whose fine construction, plastered walls, and “eclectic array of animal body parts,” especially carnivores such as leopard, marten, and eagle, set the burial apart from other graves in the cave, and indeed other contemporary sites in the Middle East.
Based on other artifactual indicators from the site as well as other contemporary archaeological sites, Dr. Munro and her colleague have interpreted this evidence as a feast associated with the transition to agriculture. According to the article, “[t]hese feasts had an important role to play. Adapting to village life after hundreds of millennia on the move was no simple act. Research on modern hunter-gatherer societies shows that closer contact between neighbors dramatically increased social tensions. New solutions to avoid and repair conflict were critical.”
The discoveries at Hilazon Tachtit were also published by Leore Grosman and colleagues in 2008 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Jackie Meier, a Ph.D. Candidate at UCONN’s Department of Anthropology, is the lead author on a PLoS One Paper entitled Provisioning the Ritual Neolithic Site of Kfar HaHoresh, Israel at the Dawn of Animal Management.
Abstract of the Paper:
“It is widely agreed that a pivotal shift from wild animal hunting to herd animal management, at least of goats, began in the southern Levant by the Middle Pre-Pottery Neolithic B period (10,000–9,500 cal. BP) when evidence of ritual activities flourished in the region. As our knowledge of this critical change grows, sites that represent different functions and multiple time periods are needed to refine the timing, pace and character of changing human-animal relationships within the geographically variable southern Levant. In particular, we investigate how a ritual site was provisioned with animals at the time when herd management first began in the region. We utilize fauna from the 2010–2012 excavations at the mortuary site of Kfar HaHoresh—the longest continuous Pre-Pottery Neolithic B faunal sequence in the south Levantine Mediterranean Hills (Early–Late periods, 10,600–8,700 cal. BP). We investigate the trade-off between wild and domestic progenitor taxa and classic demographic indicators of management to detect changes in hunted animal selection and control over herd animal movement and reproduction. We find that ungulate selection at Kfar HaHoresh differs from neighboring sites, although changes in dietary breadth, herd demographics and body-size data fit the regional pattern of emerging management. Notably, wild ungulates including aurochs and gazelle are preferentially selected to provision Kfar HaHoresh in the PPNB, despite evidence that goat management was underway in the Mediterranean Hills. The preference for wild animals at this important site likely reflects their symbolic significance in ritual and mortuary practice.”