This study used isotopic analyses of strontium, oxygen, and carbon on molar teeth of seven domestic ovicaprines (sheep and goat) and one wild gazelle from the Southern Levant of the ancient Near East to better understand herd management patterns in early urban centers. Analysis focused on the Early Bronze Age (EBA 3600-2400 BCE) site of Tell es-Safi/Gath in Israel. The main research question is how did early urban centers in this region acquire and utilize domestic animal resources? The main hypothesis was that a direct/local provisioning system was utilized in managing the domestic animals and that the animals would be local in origin to the site. Stable carbon isotopes were used to reconstruct the diet of the animals, and determine the type of plants (C3/C4) the animals consumed during their life. Radiogenic strontium isotopes were utilized to determine whether animals were raised locally at the site, and stable oxygen isotopes were used to gather information regarding the environment and birth seasonality of the animals. Eight animals were included in this study with samples being taken sequentially along each tooth, following the mineralization of the tooth from crown to root, to gather information about the animals over their lifespan. A total of 112 samples were made from the eight animals.
The data indicates that the diet of the majority of the ovicaprines were eating a mix of C3 and C4 plants, but with a greater contribution of C3 plants to the diet, which characterizes the area immediately surrounding the site of Tell es- Safi/Gath. Some isotopic variation between the ovicaprines was present. In contrast to the ovicaprines, the diet of the wild gazelle was dominated by C3 plants. Oxygen isotope results indicate that ovicaprine herds were managed to have two distinct birth seasons. The strontium signatures indicate that all but two of the animals were local in origin. The signatures on these two outliers were present on the first molar, suggesting the presence of either a maternal signature or that the animal was born outside the local area of Tell es-Safi/Gath but was brought to the local area shortly after its birth.
Based on the isotope research conducted, domestic ovicaprines were mainly born and raised locally, and their diet reflects the area immediately surrounding the site. Their diet was managed by herders as is highlighted by the distinction between the domestic and wild diets represented by the gazelle. Domestic ovicaprines were managed for two birth seasons potentially to increase the availability of secondary products, such as milk. The evidence of this study supports the initial hypothesis of a direct/local provisioning system of domestic herd animals at the EBA site of Tell es-Safi/Gath in Israel. While dominant patterns exist, the presence of some diversity in the isotope data (specifically the oxygen isotopes) further suggests the presence of different groups of producers present in the landscape providing the animal resources to the early city of Tell es-Safi/Gath.
*This scholar and faculty mentor have requested that only an abstract be published.