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Animal bone remains from Terqa and Tell Masaikh

p. 411-422


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1The aim of this paper is to present the animal economy of Terqa and Tell Masaikh sites in south-east Syria in the Middle Euphrates valley.1 Terqa site was inhabited since the beginning of the 3rd millennium BC until today. The settlement of Tell Masaikh is attested since the Chalcolithic Period (5th millennium BC) until the Islamic Period, however with long interruptions.

MATERIAL AND METHODOLOGY

2The examined material consists of post-consumptional animal bone remains. There are 18,176 animal remains from Terqa site (Table 1). Species and anatomical parts were identified for 15,990 pieces, which is 87.97% of all the examined fragments. The osteological material from Tell Masaikh site contains 10,158 remains (Table 5). For 7,941 of them, that is 78.17%, species affiliation was determined and anatomical parts were identified. The bones were in poor condition; they were mainly small pieces. They were probably destroyed while the meat was being prepared for consumption and during the consumption itself. The destruction continued after they had been thrown away because of the unfavourable soil conditions which caused decalcification of the bones and their disintegration into smaller pieces.

3The osteological material from Terqa site was divided into 9 groups of different chronology:

  1. Early Bronze Age

  2. Early Dynastic Period

  3. Akkadian Period

  4. Shakkanakku Period

  5. Shakkanakku/Old Babylonian Period (transitional)

  6. Old Babylonian Period

  7. Hana Period

  8. Iron Age

  9. Islamic Period

4The animal bone remains from Tell Masaikh were divided into 5 groups, which corresponded to the following chronological phases:

  1. Halaf Culture

  2. Old Babylonian Period

  3. Neo-Assyrian Period IV. Late Roman Period

  4. Islamic Period

5The material from the Old Babylonian Period and the Islamic Period from Tell Masaikh was excluded from further archeozoological analysis due to its size, as it included only 97 and 11 animal bone remains, respectively.

6Species affiliation was determined and anatomical parts were recognised.2 The following groups were identified: breeding animals (cattle, pigs, sheep and goats), animals of the Equidae family and camels (but without the indication whether they were domesticated or wild) and wild animals. The percentage of bone remains that belonged to each group in the distinguished chronological periods was calculated, as well as the percentage of different species in the group of breeding animals.

7The age and sex of the animals were reconstructed. The age was estimated on the basis of the fusion of long bone epiphyses with shafts (Kolda 1936) and the teeth development (Lutnicki 1972). In the breeding animal group the percentage of animals killed before reaching morphological maturity was estimated for each chronological phase. Sex analysis was based on the anatomical features of sexual dimorphism.

8The bones were measured according to the unified Driesch’s method (Driesch 1976). These measurements helped to reconstruct the animal morphology. In case of cattle, pig and horse, the osteological measurements were converted into points of the point-scale method (Lasota-Moskalewska 1984, Lasota-Moskalewska et al. 1987, Kobryń 1989). The cattle withers height (WH) was calculated according to Fock’s coefficients (1966), the sheep withers height–according to Teichert’s coefficients (Driesch, Boessneck 1974), the goat withers height—according to Schramm’s coefficients (1967) and the Equidae family according to Kieselwalter’s coefficients (Driesch, Boessneck 1974).

ANIMAL BONE REMAINS FROM TERQA SITE

Small ruminants

9Small ruminant bone remains were dominant in all the chronological phases (Table 1). Sheep bones and goat bones constituted the majority of the identified remains, with gazelle ranking in the third place. Therefore, it can be assumed that similar distribution applies to the whole category. A decrease in number of small ruminant bones was observed from 87.03% in the Early Bronze Age to 73.48% in the Shakkanakku Period. The percentage of these species remains similar in the Shakkanakku Period, the Shakkanakku/Old Babylonian Period, the Old Babylonian Period and the Iron Age and it was high (73.48; 76.07; 73.43; 78.99%, respectively; Table 2). It decreased gradually in the Islamic Period to 59.66%.

10The analysis of the anatomical distribution carried out for the bone remains of small ruminants indicates that all skeleton elements were represented, together with digital bones.

11The percentage of young individuals among small ruminants was calculated for the Early Bronze Age, Early Dynastic Period, Akkadian Period, Shakkanakku Period, Shakkanakku/Old Babylonian Period, Old Babylonian Period, Hana Period and Iron Age (Table 3). It was quite high in all these chronological phases and oscillated around about 7-10%. The sex analysis was not possible. Some sheep bones and goat bones were measured, which helped to establish the withers height (Table 4). The withers height of sheep ranged from 52 to 72 cm. It means that the sheep represented two morphological types—small type, as well as big sheep, with the withers height over 70 cm (71, 72 cm). Two goat metacarpal bones from the Shakkanakku and Old Babylonian Periods were measured. The results indicate small goat, with the withers height of 60 and 61 cm.

Cattle

12The cattle bone remains occurred in the second place in all the chronological phases (Table 2). The percentage of cattle bone remains was about 12.97% in the Early Bronze Age, raised to 26.52% in the Shakkanakku Period, then it decreased to 21.01% in the Iron Age and finally grew in the Islamic Period to 40.33%.

13The analysis of the anatomical distribution of the cattle bone remains from all periods shows that all skeleton elements were represented, together with digital bones.

14The age analysis indicates that young cattle constituted about 3% of all the cattle bone remains in the Early Bronze Age and Early Dynastic Period, 16.13% in the Akkadian Period, 4.79% in the Shakkanakku Period, 5.56% in the Shakkanakku/Old Babylonian Period, 9.84% in the Old Babylonian Period, 4.00% in the Hana Period and 6.14 in the Islamic Period (Table 3).

15168 measurements were made and converted into points for the cattle osteological material from seven chronological phases: the Early Bronze Age, the Early Dynastic Period, the Shakkanakku Period, the Shakkanakku/Old Babylonian Period, the Old Babylonian Period, the Hana Period and the Islamic Period. Most of them ranged from 31 to 70 points out of 100. Twenty measurements gave between 0 and 30 points and only eleven over 71 points. These data indicate normal distribution: herds were dominated by small cattle of the Bos taurus brachyceros type, the withers height of which was below 130-135 cm. Some of the measurements reveal the presence of bigger individuals, with the withers height between 135 and 150 cm.

16Five metacarpal bones were measured which helped to establish the withers height of five female individuals. The length dimension of a metacarpal bone found in the Shakkanakku/Old Babylonian Period and the Old Babylonian Period layers indicate that the withers height of the female individuals were between 103 to 121 cm.

Pig

17Thirteen bone remains from Terqa site were identified as belonging to pig. However, the identification of these bones, especially from the Shakkanakku Period, was based only on the size and thickness of the bones, not on anatomical features. Therefore, the identification may not be right.

The Equidae family and camel

18Bone remains of the animals of the Equidae family were present in all the chronological phases. In the Early Bronze Age the percentage of Equidae family reached 7.98% of all mammal remains, diminishing to about 5% in the Early Dynastic and the Akkadian Periods. The biggest number of these remains occurred in the Shakkanakku Period—11.64% of all mammal remains. It decreased in the later periods (the Shakkanakku/Old Babylonian Period—5.36%, the Old Babylonian Period—7.66%, the Hana Period—8.62%, the Iron Age—4.29%) and grew in the Islamic Period (11.19%).

19The age analysis indicates that herds consisted mainly of mature and very old animals. The young individuals constituted 3.88% in the Early Dynastic Period, 1.22% of all the bone remains in the Shakkanakku Period and 8.18% in the Old Babylonian Period (Table 3).

20From the osteometric and morphological analysis carried out for all chronological phases it can be inferred that among the animals of the Equidae family there were medium-height individuals, probably horses, whose withers height was 142 cm (Table 4). Smaller animals (WH = 117–133 cm) could have been onagers. The individuals with the withers height between 106–112 cm could have been donkeys. Moreover, many measurements converted into points gave the results below the 100-point scale. It suggests the presence of donkey, which was proven only for the Shakkanakku Period, Shakkanakku/Old Babylonian Period and Old Babylonian Period.

21181 pieces of bones were identified as belonging to camels in the Islamic Period. Few camel remains have been identified in the Early Dynastic Period and Old Babylonian Period layers but they can come from intrusive material, while at least two fragments might have belonged to other big ruminants (e. g. aurochs).

Carnivora

22The bone remains identified as belonging to the animals of the Carnivora were present almost in all the chronological phases. They were mostly dog bones (57 remains); three of them were cat bones. In the Shakkanakku Period layers two otter (Lutra lutra) cranial fragments were found, whereas in the Shakkanakku and the Old Babylonian Period layers three small Carnivora bones were discovered, most probably representing fennec fox (Fennecus [Vulpes] zerda).

Wild animals

23The osteological material recognised as wild animal remains was present in all periods (Table 1). The biggest number of these remains appeared in the Shakkanakku Period (7.71%) and Old Babylonian Period—14.16% of all mammal remains (excluding the rat, the Indian gerbil and an unidentified micromammal) and the smallest—in the Bronze and Akkadian Periods—only 0.86 and 0.88%.

24Among wild animals three groups were represented: big ruminants, small ruminants and animals of the Leporidae family. Some bones belonging to all these species were found in every mentioned chronological phase. Big ruminants involved animals of the Bovidae family (aurochs) and the Cervidae family (red deer).

25As for small ruminants, the presence of gazelle and fallow deer was confirmed. Archaeozoologists examining osteological material from Syria mention four gazelle species: Gazella gazella, Gazella subgutturosa, Gazella dorcas, and Gazella leptoceros. Among the Terqa remains several gazelle bones were identified with high probability: a metacarpus and an axis of Gazella subgutturosa, a femur of Gazella dorcas and a metatarsal bone resembling a metatarsus of Gazella gazella. Moreover, a metacarpal shaft fragment was identified which resembles metacarpal shaft of antelope Oryx leucoryx.

26The Leporidae family is represented by a few hare bones excavated from the Early Dynastic Period, Shakkanakku Period, Old Babylonian Period and the Iron Age.

Others

27The group includes the remains of unidentified micro-mammals, birds, fish, as well as pieces of mollusc shells and tortoise (Table 1). 45 of 46 fragments of tortoise shell were found in the same place in the Shakkanakku Period layer, which suggests that they could have belonged to one individual. Within identified bones of micro-mammals Indian gerbil (Tatera indica) skeleton remains prevailed. Only one fragment of cranium from the Old Babylonian Period layer was recognised as belonging to a rat (Rattus rattus).

ANIMAL BONE REMAINS FROM TELL MASAIKH SITE

Small ruminants

28Small ruminants (mostly sheep and goat) bone remains dominated in all the chronological phases (Table 5). In the earliest chronological phase (the Halaf Culture) the percentage of sheep and goat bone remains constituted about 79% of all the breeding mammal bones, in the Neo-Assyrian Period it reduced to 67% and remained the same in the Roman times (Table 6).

29The analysis of the anatomical distribution carried out for the bone remains of small ruminants indicates that all skeleton elements were represented, together with digital bones.

30The percentage of young individuals among small ruminants was quite high in the Neo-Assyrian Period and equalled on average about 10% (Table 7). In the other phases it oscillated between 4.75% in the Halaf Culture and 5.75% in the Roman times. Some sheep bones and goat bones from the Neo-Assyrian level were measured, which helped to establish the withers height. The withers height of sheep (three individuals) ranged from 58 to 70 cm. The sheep represented small type. One goat metacarpus from the same period was measured. The result indicates a small goat, with the withers height of 64 cm.

Cattle

31The cattle bone remains occurred in the second place in all the chronological phases. The percentage of cattle bone remains in all chronological phases oscillated between 21 and 29% (Table 6).

32The analysis of the anatomical distribution of the cattle bone remains shows that all skeleton elements were represented, together with digital bones.

33The age analysis indicates that young cattle constituted 16.76% of all the cattle bone remains in the Neo-Assyrian Period and 3.89% in the Late Roman Period (Table 7).

3450 measurements were made and converted into points for the cattle osteological material mainly from the Neo-Assyrian Period. Most of them (39 measurements) ranged from 31 to 70 points out of 100. Ten measurements gave between 0 and 30 points and only one—over 71 points. These data indicate nearly normal distribution: herds were dominated by small cattle of the Bos taurus brachyceros type. One of the measurements reveal the presence of bigger individuals, probably of the Bos taurus primigenius type.

Pig

35The osteological material from the Neo-Assyrian Period and Late Roman Period included pig bone remains (Table 5). The percentage of pig among breeding animals ranged between 4.62% in the former and 5.01% in the later period.

36The analysis of the anatomical distribution of the pig bone remains from all the examined phases indicates that all skeleton elements were represented, together with digital bones.

37The age analysis reveals that young pig remains constituted 6.53% of the material from the Neo-Assyrian Period. In this chronological phase some male and female bones were identified, and there were always twice as many adult females as male individuals.

388 pig bone fragments were measured. The results were then converted into points. The material came only from the Neo-Assyrian Period. All the measurements ranged from 0 to 20 points, which means that the remains belonged to small pigs.

The Equidae family and camel

39Bone remains of the animals of the Equidae family were present in all the chronological phases (Table 5). The biggest number of these remains occurred in the Neo-Assyrian Period—7.34% of all mammal remains and it decreased in the Roman Period to 2.44%.

40The age analysis of the measurements converted into points suggests that the animals of the Equidae family at Tell Masaikh site differed in size. They were probably: donkeys, onagers and horses. The withers height of three individuals was measured and it was 103 cm, 106 cm and 128 cm, respectively. The first and second individuals were probably a donkey (Equus asinus) and the third could have been either an onager (Equus hemionus onager) or a small horse.

41There were recognised some camel bones in the Neo-Assyrian Period level but at the present time, it is difficult to unequivocally determine whether the inhabitants of Tell Masaikh settlement employed a wild or a domesticated camel.

The Canidae and Felidae families

42The bone remains identified as belonging to the animals of the Canidae and Felidae families were present in the Halaf Culture, Neo-Assyrian Period and Roman times. They were dog and cat bones.

Wild animals

43The wild animal remains were present only in the Neo-Assyrian Period and only two groups were represented—small and big ruminants. The former was represented by gazelle and the later included the animals of the Bovidae family (aurochs) and the Cervidae family (red deer). Among the gazelle remains a metacarpal bone of Gazella gazelle most probably was found, together with two metapodia similar to those of Gazella subgutturosa and/or Gazella dorcas.

Others

44The group includes the remains of unidentified micro-mammals, birds, fish, as well as pieces of mollusc shells and tortoise. The bones dated to the Neo-Assyrian Period contained four elements of rat skeleton. Tortoise remains consisted mainly of broken carapace pieces. Apart from these findings, a humerus bone representing Trionyx euphratica was found.3

CONCLUSIONS

45The breeding of domestic animals played the main role in the economy at Terqa site and Tell Masaikh site. Sheep and goat remains were dominant and cattle remains were least common. Sheep and goats do not need good grazing lands and easily adapt themselves to harsh environmental conditions. Moreover, they are capable of long walking which enables the change of pastures. Cattle supplemented the breeding throughout the described periods. Their percentage was mostly rather low and did not exceed 30%. Cattle were probably kept as the source of milk and they could also be used as tractive force in the field.

46The dominance of sheep and goat as well as the cattle breeding indicates pasture economy at both site. This breeding pattern lasted for a long time. It started to change gradually from the Neo-Assyrian Period at Tell Masaikh and in the Islamic Period at Terqa site. At Terqa site cattle breeding increased while sheep and goat breeding became less important, and in Tell Masaikh pig breeding was introduced. However, small domestic ruminants remained dominant at both sites in all the chronological periods. According to Kathleen Galvin, who also examined animal bone remains from Terqa (Galvin 1981, 168): “Over all periods the proportion and relative importance of sheep (Ovis aris) remained fairly constant. This reenforces the idea that Ovis is the best all around choice of livestock for southeastern Syria.” The anatomical analysis of breeding animal remains shows that slaughtering and meat jointing, as well as consumption, took place within the settled area in all the chronological phases. The whole skeletons of particular species together with digital bones were found at the places of flaying.

47The data concerning the age and sex of the animals which were kept for meat are not sufficient enough to reconstruct the breeding procedure at Terqa site and Tell Masaikh site. It was only established that quite high percentage of slaughtered young animals was observed among cattle and small ruminants. It reached about 10% in all the chronological phases, while at most sites it oscillates around 5% (Lasota-Moskalewska 1997) and suggests economical breeding and the use of living animals. The fact that the percentage of slaughtered young sheep and goats at Terqa site was so high indicates that small ruminant breeding was meat (fat) and wool oriented.

48As for cattle, the percentage of slaughtered young individuals was usually much lower (4%). Such a low percentage of slaughtered young cattle implies typical economical breeding which supports meat supplies, but at the same time makes use of the living animals and assures the herd reproduction. In case of cattle and two species of small ruminants, there is only one young a year. It can be slaughtered for meat if there is no need to strengthen the herd. These animals have some useful features that pigs lack and therefore they can be exploited during their lifetime. The percentage of young cattle was higher in the Neo-Assyrian Period at Tell Masaikh site (16.76%) and in the Babylonian Period at Terqa site. It seems that breeding of cattle in these periods was focused on meet production.

49The morphological analysis showed that in all the chronological phases the cattle were mainly of the Bos taurus brachyceros type, with the withers height between 110 and 130 cm. Only a few individuals were higher and reached the withers height of 150 cm. Single big individuals may indicate the cross-breeding of cattle with aurochs, probably in order to strengthen the herd. The herd population was well cross-bred; there was no selection of the individuals of a particular size.

50The sheep herds at both sites consisted entirely of small, mouflon-type individuals, with the withers height oscillating between 52 and 68 cm. The big form (WH over 70 cm) appeared at the beginning of the Iron Age II. It was probably imported from some other regions, most probably situated east of Asia Minor. Big sheep called urial sheep or arkal sheep existed there. All the available data preclude the breeding attempts aimed at obtaining big sheep.

51The analysis of goat morphology from both sites suggests that small goats were bred in this region at that time. Their withers height was about 60-64 cm.

52In the osteological material from Terqa and Tell Masaikh site the bone remains of the animals of the Equidae family were found in all the chronological phases. This group could include various species: horse, donkey and probably also onager. As there was no possibility to establish whether a particular bone belonged to the wild or domesticated form, it cannot be inferred which forms constituted the herd and whether the animals were bred or hunted for meat. It is possible that they were tamed. The same problem concerns camel.

53The data obtained suggest the presence of quite small horses whose withers height was about 143 cm, as well as onagers, with the withers height ranging from 117 to 136 cm and donkeys, with the withers height ranging from 106 to 112 cm. The animals of the Equidae family were mostly mature (5–9 years old) and very old (over 15 years old). There were only a few young individuals. Assuming that they were domesticated and breeding animals, the dominance of mature and old individuals suggests their usage as pack animals. They definitely were not the source of meat. The age distribution may also suggest hunting wild forms.

54Hunting wild animals supplemented breeding. It did not play a very important role in any chronological phase, as wild animal bone remains did not exceed 4% of the material from each layer in the majority of periods. However, in two chronological phases the role of hunting was significantly more important. These phases include the Shakkanakku and Old Babylonian Periods when fallow deer, red deer and gazelles were the most frequent game. Regardless of the significance of hunting, a variety of wild species was represented. Aurochs, deer, fallow deer and antelopes (mostly gazelles) were mainly hunted, and sometimes also hare.

55These animals provided additional meat for consumption. The Cervidae were also the source of antlers, of which various objects were made. The use of antlers was suggested by the traces of cutting (probably connected with production) observed on a piece of roe deer and fallow deer antlers.

56The animal economy at Terqa site and Tell Masaikh site was dominated by breeding, while wild animal hunting, fishing and invertebrate collecting were less important. The breeding was always supplemented by cattle, while sheep and goat breeding prevailed.

Bibliographie

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Driesch A. von den
1976
A Guide to the Measurement of Animal Bones from Archeological Sites, Harvard.

Driesch A. von den and J. Boessneck
1974 “Kritische Anmerkungen zur Wiederristhöhenberechnung aus Längenmasen vor und frühgeschichtlicher Tierknochen”, Säugetierkundliche Mitteilungen 22, p. 325-348.

Fock J.
1966
Metrische Untersuchungen an Metapodien einiger europäischer Rinderrasen, Munich.

Galvin K. F.
1981
Early State Economic Organization and the Role of Specialized Pastoralism: Terqa in the Middle Euphrates Region, Syria, Los Angeles.

Kobryń H.
1989 “Zastosowanie metody punktowej w badaniach wykopaliskowych szczątków kostnych konia (Equus Przewalski f. Caballus)”,
Archeologia Polski 34 (1), p. 7-11.

Kolda J.
1936
Srovnavaci anatomie zviřat domacich se zřetelem k anatomii človĕka, Brno.

Lasota-Moskalewska A.
1984 “The Skeleton of a Prehistoric Cow with Characteristics of both Primigenious and Brachycerous Cattle”,
OSSA 9/11, p. 53-72.
1997
Podstawy archeozoologii. Szczątki ssaków, Warsaw.

Lasota-Moskalewska A., Kobryń H. and Świeżyński K. 1987 “Changes in the Size of the Domestic and Wild Pig from the Neolithic Age to the Middle Age”, Acta Theoriologica 33, p. 51-81.

Lutnicki W.
1972
Uzębienie zwierząt domowych, Warsaw-Crakow.

Schramm Z.
1967 “Kości długie, a wysokość w kłębie u kozy”,
Roczniki Wyższej Szkoły Rolniczej w Poznaniu 36, p. 89-105.

Annexe

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Table 1–Animal bone remains from Terqa site

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Table 2 – Species distribution of the breeding animal remains from Terqa site in the chronological phases

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Table 3 – The percentage of young breeding mammals bones from Terqa site

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Table 4 – Measurements of bones from Terqa site in the particular chronological phases

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Table 5 – Animal bone remains from Tell Masaikh site

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Table 6 – Species distribution of the breeding animal remains from Tell Masaikh site in the chronological phases

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Table 7 – The percentage of young breeding mammals bones from Tell Masaikh site

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Table 8 – Measurements of bones from Tell Masaikh site in the particular chronological phases

Notes de bas de page

1 This analysis has been financed by the grant “Praca naukowa finansowana ze środków na naukę w latach 2006-2008 jako projekt badawczy”.

2 An attempt was taken to determine several bones (mainly wild ruminants bones) by comparing fragments found on the two sites with the osteological collection from Institut für Paläoanatomie at Munich University.

3 It was determined with the help from Prof. Yoris Peters from the Institut für Paläoanatomie at Munich University. I would like to express here my gratitude for his help in identifying several bone fragments and enabling me to use the osteological collection for comparative studies.

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