Ungulate skeletal element profiles: A possible marker for territorial contraction and sedentism in the Levantine Epipaleolithic

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The Epipaleolithic sequence of the southern Levant (ca. 24,000–11,500 cal. BP) reflects the shift from mobile to sedentary foraging societies, eventually paving the way to nascent villages, domestication and farming. Early and middle Epipaleolithic cultures (locally, the Kebaran and the Geometric Kebaran) generally produce an archaeological signature of mobile foragers, while the late Epipaleolithic Natufian Culture is renowned for the regular and intensified appearance of durable architecture, cemeteries, groundstones and art, joined with a broad-spectrum economy, and therefore indicates a more complex and sedentary society. Epipaleolithic archaeofaunas have been thoroughly investigated to detect shifts in site-occupation intensity, including changes in prey abundances, ungulate culling patterns and carcass processing habits, but carcass transport decisions received less attention. The transition to sedentary living in the Natufian would entail the exploitation of a defined and contracted territory around the site. In this case, central-place foraging theory predicts that ungulates will be hunted in the site's proximity and hence will be carried away in a more complete form, undergoing minimal or no field butchery. Therefore, we predict that skeletal-element profiles in sedentary Natufian hamlets will be more complete than in pre-Natufian camps, used by mobile foragers. We test this prediction by constructing detailed skeletal-element profiles and examining skeletal-element evenness. The results indicate that ungulate carcasses were transported significantly more completely in the Natufian assemblages, supporting our prediction. We further zoom in to explore the differential distribution of skeletal element abundances within a Natufian hamlet, showing the discard and attrition patterns that eventually produced our skeletal-element record. The results of our analysis of skeletal-element evenness correspond to other archaeological proxies for increased site-occupation intensity and territorial contraction in the Natufian.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)173-186
Number of pages14
JournalQuaternary International
StatePublished - 10 Jan 2018


  • Carcass transport
  • Epipaleolithic
  • Levant
  • Natufian
  • Skeletal-element profiles
  • Territoriality

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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