It is widely believed that Byzantine agriculture in the Negev Desert (fourth to seventh century Common Era; CE), with widespread construction of terraces and dams, altered local landscapes. However, no direct evidence in archaeological sites yet exists to test this assumption. We uncovered large amounts of small mammalian remains (rodents and insectivores) within agricultural installations built near fields, providing a new line of evidence for reconstructing anthropogenic impact on local habitats. Abandonment layers furnished high abundances of remains, whereas much smaller numbers were retrieved from the period of human use of the structures. Digestion marks are present in low frequencies (20% of long bones and teeth), with a light degree of impact, which indicate the role of owls (e.g. Tyto alba) as the principal means of accumulation. The most common taxa—gerbils (Gerbillus spp.) and jirds (Meriones spp.)—occur in nearly equal frequencies, which do not correspond with any modern Negev communities, where gerbils predominate in sandy low-precipitation environments and jirds in loessial, higher-precipitation ones. Although low-level climate change cannot be ruled out, the results suggest that Byzantine agriculture allowed jirds to colonize sandy anthropogenic habitats with other gerbilids and commensal mice and rats.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This study was conducted under a license from the Israel Antiquities Authority (G-30/2011). The work was supported by the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement no. 648427), the National Geographic Society (3857-10) and the Israel Science Foundation (grant no. 340-14).
Data accessibility. All data and research materials supporting the results are in the article or have been made available online through Dryad.org (http://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.3h207) . Author contributions. T.F. designed the study, carried out the data analysis and drafted the manuscript. L.W. participated in statistical analysis and helped draft the paper. Y.T. and G.B.-O. coordinated the study and helped draft the manuscript. All authors gave final approval for publication. Competing interests. We have no competing interests. Funding. This study was conducted under a license from the Israel Antiquities Authority (G-30/2011). The work was supported by the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement no. 648427), the National Geographic Society (3857-10) and the Israel Science Foundation (grant no. 340-14). Acknowledgements. We thank Rivka Rabinovich, curator of the National Natural History Collections of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem for her kind assistance in accessing the Rodentia and Insectivora collections, and Professors Georgy Shenbrot and Yoram Yom-Tov for their invaluable advice. However, responsibility for the outcome of the study and its reporting in this paper lies solely with the authors. We thank our anonymous reviewers for their insightful and helpful comments. Responsibility for the final outcome rests with us.
© 2018 The Authors.
- Anthropogenic impacts
- Byzantine period
- Southern levant
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