English » Field Projects » Tell Nader Project » Faunal Remains

Written by Dr. Angelos Hadjikoumis.

The overall aim of zooarchaeology at Tell Nader is to study and follow the evolution of all human-animal interactions at the site. This includes many specific aims revolving around general themes such as hunting, animal husbandry, the cultural role of animals, the surrounding environment and its exploitation, cuisine and many others. Due to the small size of the assemblage, its bad preservation condition and the currently crude chronology, this first faunal report remains on a general level.

The faunal assemblage was recovered through hand collection and dry sieving (1mm aperture mesh). It consisted of 472 specimens but from these, only 137 recordable elements could be identified to species or genus. The assemblage was washed, studied and recorded at the Erbil Civilization Museum in April/May 2011 by the author. The majority of specimens were not identifiable due to severe fragmentation (mostly in the past), erosion of bone surface and, most importantly, the cement-like crust in which they were enveloped. Even among identified bones erosion and concretions were very common with a 77% affected by erosion or concretions or both. Halstead’s recording protocol was used with few additions and changes. Identification was aided only by anatomical atlantes as no reference collection was available in Erbil.

At least six species of mammal and one species of bird are represented in the assemblage. Before proceeding to the most abundant species, issues concerning rare or intrusive species are briefly addressed. Such species at Tell Nader include an equid (horse/donkey), a bird and a rodent. The equid is represented only by a heavily worn permanent maxillary premolar/molar and unfortunately it cannot be determined with certainty whether it belonged to the original archaeological assemblage or it was incorporated in it recently. Birds are represented by 4 specimens. Two left tibiotarsi fragments are compatible with a medium-sized member of the Accipitridae family (diurnal birds of prey) though this should be confirmed or refuted through comparisons with modern reference specimens. A femur of a small/medium-sized bird was also recorded but not identified, as was another long bone fragment. Lastly, the remains of rodents include a near-complete skeleton of a rodent and a maxilla belonging to another individual. The remains belong to a species of the genus Spalax, probably Spalax ehrenbergi, although there still considerable confusion in mole rat taxonomy in the Middle East. Irrespective of species, members of the genus Spalax in the Middle East are the commonest burrowers in the region and hence, most probably of intrusive origin in the upper strata of archaeological sites.

The bulk of mammalian remains belong to cattle, sheep/goat, pig and dog (Table. 1). It has to be clarified that the possibility of the presence of jackal remains in the category ‘dog’ is open simply due to the diachronic presence of the dog/wolf-sized golden jackal (Canis aureus) in the Middle East and despite the absence of any indication for it. According to the Maximum Anatomical Units (MaxAU) count, the most abundant species is sheep/goat (47%) followed closely by the pig (39%), while cattle, also taking into account their large size, are also significant with 11%. A canid (most probably dog) is also present in the assemblage in low numbers (3%). An interesting result concerning the sheep/goat category is that no sheep has been identified and goat contributed 14% to the total 47% of the category.

Data on the age-at-death are scarce and should thus be reconsidered in the future with more data. Based on tooth eruption and wear of mandibular teeth, the general tendency for sheep/goat is low mortality in the first year, high in the second and moderate from the third year onwards (Table 2). Concerning pigs, data are pointing towards high mortality in the second half of the first year and some in the second year with very few animals surviving beyond the third (Table 3).

No cattle teeth were identified in the assemblage, while dog was represented by the teeth of at least two animals. One was a 1-2 month-old puppy represented by an unworn mandibular dP4. The other was an unworn upper M1, representing also a young animal, most probably younger than 6 months old. Both these teeth, along with a permanent lower incisor, were found near the head of a human burial but without any reliable evidence of association with it. This should be clarified in following seasons when more burials are excavated.

Analyses are still under way and more results and discussion will appear in the literature soon, especially when more material comes to light for zooarchaeological study in the second excavation season scheduled for September-October 2012.