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

Tal Fried, Lior Weissbrod, Yotam Tepper, Guy Bar-Oz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number171528
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - 10 Jan 2018


  • Anthropogenic impacts
  • Byzantine period
  • Micromammals
  • Palaeozoology
  • Southern levant

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


Dive into the research topics of 'A glimpse of an ancient agricultural ecosystem based on remains of micromammals in the Byzantine Negev Desert'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this