ref: Before Farming 2012/2 article 1

Middle Palaeolithic subsistence in the Near East: zooarchaeological perspectives – past, present and future

John D Speth
Department of Anthropology, 101 West Hall, 1085 South University Avenue
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109-1107, USA

Keywords: Zooarchaeology, Near East, Levant, Middle Palaeolithic, Neanderthal, subsistence


This paper presents an overview of major trends and contributions of faunal studies to our understanding of Neanderthal and anatomically modern human lifeways and adaptations in the Near East. Prior to the 1980s, Near Eastern Middle Palaeolithic zooarchaeology served primarily as an adjunct discipline, a largely palaeontological means of reconstructing palaeoenvironments and as a tool for determining the relative age of sites. Faunal reports were often exceedingly brief, not uncommonly amounting to little more than species lists, and often relegated to an appendix. This technical and largely supportive role, though important and one that continues to make valuable contributions today, began to broaden in scope in the 1980s and 1990s, largely in response to Lewis Binford’s provocative ideas about scavenging by early hominins at Olduvai Gorge, together with the infusion of taphonomic approaches and methodologies, also pioneered in sub-Saharan Africa, by CK Brain, Kay Behrensmeyer, Richard Klein, Henry Bunn, Robert Blumenschine, Binford, and many others. Though the ‘scavenging phase’ was relatively short-lived, its impact on Middle Palaeolithic research agendas in Eurasia was profound. In the past two decades faunal studies have begun to explore a much broader range of more anthropologically- and ecologically-nuanced questions about diet, hunting strategies, butchering and transport decisions, food sharing, division of labour, and many others. We are now entering an exciting new phase in the Near East, as Middle Palaeolithic zooarchaeology begins to more fully realise its great potential for making fundamental contributions to our understanding of the entry and spread of modern humans into Eurasia.



© Western Academic & Specialist Press Ltd 2012