Livestock and People in a Middle Chalcolithic Settlement: A Micromorphological Investigation from Tel Tsaf, Israel

By Hubbard, Emily M. | Antiquity, December 2010 | Go to article overview

Livestock and People in a Middle Chalcolithic Settlement: A Micromorphological Investigation from Tel Tsaf, Israel


Hubbard, Emily M., Antiquity


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Introduction

The relationship between humans and animals is one of the key indicators of changing social and economic structures in human history. As Garfinkel et al. note in their recent Antiquity article, the first stage in the accumulation of wealth is the production of surplus of grains and livestock (Garfinkel et al. 2009). The authors refer to the work of Childe (1950), and place their discussion within the context of surplus facilitating the development of fulltime craft specialisation, socio-economic stratification, and the ultimate rise of urbanism. Their article presents a thorough discussion of the potential economic significance of grain silos at the Middle Chalcolithic site of Tel Tsar, Israel. However, their discussion was not able to address the other acknowledged element of surplus accumulation: livestock. New micromorphological evidence presented in this article highlights an interesting distinction between human and animal occupation at the site, furthering our knowledge of the accumulation and distribution of livestock at sites of this kind.

Based on recent radiometric dates, it is believed that Tel Tsaf was occupied between 5200 and 4600 cal BC during the Middle Chalcolithic period (Garfinkel et al. 2009). Prior to the 2004-2007 excavations at Tel Tsaf, there had been no large-scale excavations of sites from this period. The Middle Chalcolithic lies between the earlier Wadi Rabah phase (c. 5800-5200 cal BC) and the Late Chalcolithic (c. 4500-3900 cal BC) (Banning 2007). The Wadi Rabah has been investigated as the period of transition away from early agricultural villages of the Near Eastern Neolithic, while the later or Ghassulian Chalcolithic is largely defined by the extensive excavations at the type site of Teleilat Ghassul (Mallon et al. 1934; Koeppel et al. 1940; North 1961; Hennessy 1969; Bourke et al. 1995, 2000). The later Chalcolithic culture is argued by some to represent the earliest chiefdoms in the region (Levy 1986, 1998; Gal et al. 1996), however, there is ongoing debate surrounding the extent of social stratification (Gilead 1988; Bourke 2001; Blackham 2002). The excavations at Tel Tsaf are important in advancing our understanding of the transition towards socioeconomic stratification, especially through understanding the accumulation and distribution of surpluses (Childe 1950; Sahlins 1958; Flannery 1969; Cowgill 1975). However, some of the initial interpretations of various structures at the site should be revised in light of micromorphological data collected during the 2006-2007 seasons.

Middle Chalcolithic buildings at Tel Tsaf

Large-scale excavations at the site of Tel Tsaf, Israel, from 2004 to 2007 have revealed well-preserved mud-brick architecture, presenting a variety of forms and raising several important questions about the origins and use of these constructions. The 2006 season uncovered an area of about 400[m.sup.2] that appears to represent two distinct buildings, including rooms and courtyards (Figure 1), that the excavators have assigned to stratigraphic phase 3 (Garfinkel et al. 2007b). Unfortunately, the excavations have not revealed the full extent of either building and it cannot be ruled out that each building may have other features not currently exposed. This discussion is based on the current evidence, and only further exposure will be able to endorse or rebut the research presented.

Building I contains a rectangular structure and a number of paved circular features that the excavators interpret as silos (Garfinkel et al. 2009). There are also several cooking installations within the courtyard, including roasting pits and ovens. These features do not appear out of place in the southern Levant, with similar evidence from the Wadi Rabah and Chalcolithic periods (Kaplan 1958; Gopher & Gophna 1993; Gopher 1998; Bourke 2001). Although these features warrant further discussion, it is Building II that currently presents the more enigmatic architecture. …

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