The Early Management of Cattle (Bos Taurus) in Neolithic Central Anatolia

Article excerpt


The domestication of cattle in the Near East approximately 10 000 years ago was an important innovation that helped transform the subsistence systems of agro-pastoral societies that, previously, had relied largely on herds of domestic sheep and goats. The addition of domestic cattle (Bos taurus) to the Neolithic subsistence complex, a process that was initiated a millennium after the first successful management of caprines, facilitated the development of new economic and social systems that took advantage of the large packages of animal products, including meat, blood, skin, and renewable milk and traction, offered by managed cattle herds.

The processes by which domestic taurine cattle were incorporated into Neolithic agropastoral subsistence economies in central Anatolia may be documented through various lines of zooarchaeological evidence, including biometric, demographic and skeletal part representation data. Through comparative analyses of these faunal data recovered from multiple Neolithic sites located in the region, in particular the archaeofaunas from Erbaba and Catalhoyuk (Figure 1, Table 1), we argue for a new date and process of domestication that includes the importation of cattle previously domesticated elsewhere.

Cattle exploitation at Erbaba

The Neolithic site of Erbaba provides a valuable source of data for addressing the nature of cattle exploitation in central Anatolia at a critical time in the expansion of cattle management throughout the Near East and beyond (e.g. Horwitz & Ducos 2005; Zeder 2008). Although the site was excavated more than four decades ago, this important faunal assemblage has never been published in detail (although see Bordaz & Alper-Bordaz 1976, 1979; Makarewicz 1999). Three major stratigraphic phases have been identified. Each layer dates to the Pottery Neolithic period and is roughly contemporary with the latest levels of Catalhoyuk (VI-I) (Bordaz & Alper-Bordaz 1979). Radiocarbon dates obtained by Bordaz and Alper-Bordaz (1982) are problematic, with most determinations from wood charcoals yielding extremely large standard deviations, but recent efforts to re-date Erbaba on the basis of animal bone collagens have provided several dates confirming a Pottery Neolithic occupation of the site c. 6600-6100 cal BC (Table 2).


The animal economy at Erbaba was dominated by the herding of domestic caprines, although this was supplemented through the hunting of wild sheep and goats, as well as other wild ungulate taxa (Arbuckle 2006, 2008). Cattle are the third most abundant taxonomic group in the assemblage after caprines and pigs, representing c. 5 per cent of the assemblage based on counts of specimens identified to the genus level, and 23.8 per cent of the assemblage based on bone weight (Tables 3 and 4). Thus, although the number of remains is relatively small, cattle represent a central component of the subsistence system at Erbaba.

The relative frequency of cattle remains changes little through the stratigraphic sequence at Erbaba, but the ratio of caprines and cattle, the two most important taxonomic groups based on bone weight, shifts markedly over time. The ratio of caprines to cattle in level III, the oldest level at Erbaba, is 21:1 but decreases to 8:1 and 13:1 in levels II and I, respectively, indicating that cattle became an increasingly important part of a more diverse economy in the uppermost levels of the site.

LSI analysis

It has long been recognised that domestic ungulates, including cattle, exhibit a reduced body size compared to their wild counterparts (Rutimeyer 1862; Rohrs & Herre 1961; Ducos 1968; Grigson 1989). Reduced size may be recognised in archaeofaunal assemblages from measurements of individual skeletal elements and LSI values. In the log size index (LSI) method, log transformed measurements taken from archaeological specimens representing multiple skeletal elements are compared with those from a standard animal; in this case a large female aurochs from Mesolithic Denmark (following Grigson 1989; de Cupere & Duru 2003; Russell & Martin 2005). …