Distribution and extinction of ungulates during the Holocene of the southern Levant

Ella Tsahar, Ido Izhaki, Simcha Lev-Yadun, Guy Bar-Oz

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Background: The southern Levant (Israel, Palestinian Authority and Jordan) has been continuously and extensively populated by succeeding phases of human cultures for the past 15,000 years. The long human impact on the ancient landscape has had great ecological consequences, and has caused continuous and accelerating damage to the natural environment. The rich zooarchaeological data gathered at the area provide a unique opportunity to reconstruct spatial and temporal changes in wild species distribution, and correlate them with human demographic changes. Methodology: Zoo-archaeological data (382 animal bone assemblages from 190 archaeological sites) from various time periods, habitats and landscapes were compared. The bone assemblages were sorted into 12 major cultural periods. Distribution maps showing the presence of each ungulate species were established for each period. Conclusions: The first major ungulate extinction occurred during the local Iron Age (1,200-586 BCE), a period characterized by significant human population growth. During that time the last of the largest wild ungulates, the hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus), aurochs (Bos primigenius) and the hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) became extinct, followed by a shrinking distribution of forest-dwelling cervids. A second major wave of extinction occurred only in the 19th and 20th centuries CE. Furthermore, a negative relationship was found between the average body mass of ungulate species that became extinct during the Holocene and their extinction date. It is thus very likely that the intensified human activity through habitat destruction and uncontrolled hunting were responsible for the two major waves of ungulate extinction in the southern Levant during the late Holocene.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere5316
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number4
StatePublished - 29 Apr 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Conceived and designed the experiments: ET SLY GBO. Performed the experiments: ET GBO. Analyzed the data: ET II SLY GBO. Wrote the paper: ET SLY GBO. Obtaining fellowship funding: II GBO.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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