What animals were like (Archaeology of People) Part 2

Physicality, intimacy and sociality

People in the millennia which are the principal focus of this topic lived in a world full of animals. The emphasis on colonisation and domestication in much of the literature encourages us perhaps to forget the diversity of this natural situation. Whether people regularly hunted and consumed wild animals or not, they must have regularly encountered wild animals as well as their domesticates. In fact, there is evidence over wide areas that hunting was a significant activity, especially but not exclusively in early phases of the Neolithic. A considerable range of game is documented from the Koros culture, from red deer and aurochs down to badger and hare, along with fish and birds (Bokonyi 1974; 1992; Takacs 1992), Wild animals were still important in the Tisza culture of the earlier fifth millennium BC, and at least two tell sites, Berettyoujfalu-Herpaly and Csoszhalom, have remarkably high percentages (Bokonyi 1974; Bartosiewicz 1999; Schwartz 1998). The range of wild species still strongly recalls the much earlier situation in the Koros culture. Bokonyi (1974, 111—12) argued that this was a phase of intensive local domestication of cattle, but it is possible that there was still relatively little difference between aurochs and ‘domestic cattle’, as seems also to have been the case earlier in the Koros culture (Bokonyi 1974, 110). Even in Tiszapolgar culture burials of the later fourth millennium BC, wild animals in the form of boars’ tusks, red deer antler and teeth, and aurochs and other bones were a regular accompaniment of the dead, along with remains of domesticates and a range of other artefacts (Chapman 1997a; 2000b; Derevenski 1997; 2000).

Poor preservation of bone has long been a problem in the area of the LBK; many assemblages of animal bone are depressingly small, as from Bylany (Clason 1968). An earlier picture was of the numerical dominance of domesticates (Muller 1964), but this has gradually changed. Though game seems at face value overall less important than domesticates, the amounts of wild species vary across the extent of the LBK, being more common in more southerly areas and in earlier phases (e.g. Dohle 1993; Hachem 1995; 1997; 1999; Kreuz 1990; Pucher 1987; 1998; Uerpmann and Uerpmann 1997; Jeunesse and Arbogast 1997). In a sample of ten earliest LBK sites, the percentages of wild species varied considerably, ranging to over half in some but decreasing to less than a quarter in others; the numbers and relative proportions of the domesticates also varied from site to site (Uerpmann and Uerpmann 1997, fig. 3). A wider study also found a tendency for higher frequencies of wild animals in early sites within a given area (Hachem 1999); these also, from detailed studies in the Aisne valley, seem to occur in longer-lasting sites and beside smaller buildings (Hachem 1995; 1997; 1999), to which we will return below. In the fifth millennium BC, comparisons suggest that the amounts of game declined in domestic contexts in the broad area between middle and upper Rhine and upper Danube, though wild animals as represented by antlers, teeth and tusks remained important in mortuary ritual (Jeunesse and Arbogast 1997). In Hinkelstein and Grossgartach group (that is early post-LBK) graves from Trebur, Hessen, adults were lain extended, with things placed up and down their corpses. As well as pots and stone artefacts, there were sides of beef represented by deposits of cattle ribs, and some sheep and pig bones; the wild is represented here by a belt of red deer teeth (Spatz 1997, figs 7—10).

In the Alpine foreland from the later fifth into the mid fourth millennium BC, red deer were of equal and at times greater importance compared to cattle and other domesticates (Figure 4.2) (Gross et al. 1990, fig. 4; Schibler, Huster-Plogmann et al. 1997). The hypothesis of economic crash in the thirty-seventh and thirty-sixth centuries BC has already been noted above. It seems to be the case that the amounts of domesticates did not decline, nor did the character of the settlements in terms of layout or buildings or other artefactual deposition change. It might be argued that the suggested trends are simply the product of variation in the conditions of preservation, including varying lake levels. It might be argued, if that were not the case, that increased densities of red deer bones indicate longer periods of occupation, or shifts in the seasonality of occupation, in what was not yet necessarily a fully sedentary system. If climatic conditions did become colder, from a ‘dwelling perspective’ people may have only intensified what they already frequently practised, responding to the changing pattern of weather. Deer hunting was an old activity in this region. Some Mesolithic sites, like Schotz 7 in the Wauwilermoos, were clearly camps focused on the exploitation of red deer (Wyss 1979); deer are also among the remains at their Neolithic successors in the same immediate locality, such as Egolzwil 3 and the slightly later Egolzwil 5 (Vogt 1951; Wyss 1976). At Egolzwil 5, domesticates outnumbered wild game, but only by the order of three or two to one. Only if the whole system is modelled as near the limits of sustainability does the crash hypothesis need to apply; the evidence rather may suggest the continuing importance of the wild over centuries alongside the introduction of domesticated animals and cereal cultivation.

Outline scheme of the main trends in animal representation on Zurichsee sites, northern Switzerland, 4300-3350 bc. The diamonds indicate various other wild animals.

Figure 4.2 Outline scheme of the main trends in animal representation on Zurichsee sites, northern Switzerland, 4300-3350 bc. The diamonds indicate various other wild animals.

These examples should be sufficient to establish the extent of contact with wild animals, even though this clearly varied from place to place and through time. Regular encounters with wild animals as well as tending to domestic ones must have taken people into every part of their environment, unless we see hunting as purely defensive in relation to gardens and plots where cereals were cultivated (Uerpmann 1977). Given the other witnesses to human movement, given by lithic and other evidence, restriction to the confines of residence and its associated clearances seems extremely unlikely. There is some direct evidence for the grazing of sheep and goats away from settlements, in the form of prickles of Rosaceae, probably blackberry, preserved in their fossilised droppings at the Horgen culture site of Horgen Scheller on Lake Zurich, dated to just before 3000 BC (Akeret and Jacomet 1997; Ebersbach et al. 1999). Assuming again no taphonomic distortions, these have been taken as indicating grazing on woodland edges, clearances or clearings, and hedges, in winter and spring; the sample recovered and examined gave no indication of summer grazing. Given this absence, these animals may have been even further afield in the summer months. It has regularly been assumed that cattle in the Alpine foreland would have to have been kept indoors over the winter months, with leaf and other fodder brought in laboriously for them (e.g. Gross et al. 1990). While there are clearly some buildings which served as stalls, there is little architectural evidence for stalling on a major scale, or even sufficient to house even the most minimal herd. There is as yet no comparable coprolite evidence for cattle. Given that aurochs and red deer could survive in the woodlands during winter, untended by people, it may be far more economical to suppose that most domestic animals in the Alpine foreland did most of their own foraging in winter. If assisted and tended to varying degrees, this would also have taken people far out into their landscapes.

The range of probable behaviours of the wild species in question is also relevant. Red deer and boar might be thought of as potentially more serious natural raiders than roe deer or aurochs; given that all regularly occur in the various bone assemblages, it seems unlikely that they are all the result of defensive hunting. In fact, we know little of the conditions in which aurochs flourished, though it is presumed that they preferred river meadow woodlands, light deciduous forest with rich understorey and natural grassland and marshes, compared to red deer which may have been tolerant of more densely wooded conditions (Huster-Plogmann et al. 1999; Steppan 1999). In addition, all wild species may have been subject to some degree of disturbance by people and their domestic animals. In the case of Zealand and southern Sweden, aurochs appear to have disappeared already before the Neolithic, and by the Middle Neolithic on Fyn (Aaris-S0rensen 1999). This too may indicate the likelihood that many wild animal remains in Neolithic contexts were the result of planned forays at a distance from settlements and camps.

Two implications follow. The relative importance of wild and domestic animals is normally discussed in terms of percentages of bones present (that is, having survived a range of taphonomic and depositional processes) in settlements and occupations. This may tend to under-represent the importance of wild animals, if these were more likely to have been consumed out in the landscape (cf. Parker Pearson 2000, 230). These percentages also fundamentally under-play the time spent out in the landscape, either engaged in other activities, or in planned hunting trips. Tending domestic animals might have been a more constant commitment, but hunting could have been more expensive in terms of concentrated time. Even say 10 or 20 per cent of wild animal bones, normally assigned a minor role without further discussion, may stand for a very significant form of activity. Secondly, it would seem from all these arguments that people, whether they were indigenous or incomers, had a very detailed knowledge of the animals in the environments in which they lived. The ubiquitous physicality of these abundant natural symbols was a constant part of people’s surroundings; it is hard to imagine life in this period without constant reference not only to the presence of animals, but their form, movement, sound, colour, smell and taste.

How animals were categorised should be an open question. The overriding tendency has been to assume a sharp distinction between wild and tame. Given this distinction (whether or not the accompanying morphological or other criteria are immediately clear: Higgs and Jarman 1969), the focus normally shifts automatically to the suitability and use of domesticates, but if the distinction between wild and tame was blurred, other possibilities come into the picture. In terms of what may have fostered fear, envy and admiration (Levi-Strauss 1964, 89), there may have been little to separate wild and domestic. Both, in measures varying by species, had consciousness, faces and voices; sociality and emotions; physical attributes such as strength, speed, fertility, virility and vitality; and a pattern of growth much slower than that of plants and more akin to that of people (Ingold 2000, 86). Animals could have been classified in various ways, such as by the taste of their meat, or the environmental niches or ranges that they occupied, or their sociality, or their size. There is some evidence to suggest that sociality and size were important. Throughout the sequences with which we are concerned it is combinations of cattle, pigs, sheep and goats which were the important domesticates, with red deer of especial importance in earlier times (cf. Jarman 1972). More solitary or dispersed animals may have been less significant, not only because more elusive, but also because less social. Circumstantial evidence may suggest that size was a more important criterion of categorisation. In the long term, cattle replaced red deer in many parts of central and western Europe. As we have already seen, in the Alpine foreland from the later fifth into the mid fourth millennium BC, red deer were of equal and at times greater importance compared to cattle and other domesticates (Gross et al. 1990, fig. 4; Schibler, Huster-Plogmann et al. 1997). For the earliest LBK, when there were also significant numbers of wild animals in bone assemblages, it has been suggested that grouping by large and small size helps to produce more regionally coherent patterns of use than enumeration simply by species (Uerpmann and Uerpmann 1997). In fact, there seems little need to expect regional patterning, but the suggested four groupings of wild and domestic cattle, wild ungulates except wild cattle, middle-sized ‘domestic artiodactyles’ (sheep, goat and pig), and others, are useful. Earlier still in the Koros culture, sheep and goats were the species represented by the most bones. They were, however, only part of a spectrum of species, from large to small. Taken together, red deer, aurochs and domesticated cattle (with rarer wild asses and even rarer horses) in fact represent a more abundant grouping, and there are anyway good grounds for doubting a sharp distinction between aurochs and domesticated cattle in this phase, since measurements of long bones and horn cores overlap (Bokonyi 1974). Sheep and goats may have been adopted in part because they filled a gap in the size range, between large animals on the one hand and much smaller game on the other, and competing as it were only with pigs and roe deer. The latter are more solitary, though their densities can be high in favourable conditions, while pigs seem not to have been kept in great numbers on the Great Hungarian Plain, perhaps because they were less suited to the partly wet and partly open conditions.

Novelty may also have played a part. Sheep and goats might have been adopted in the Carpathian basin simply because they had been used further south-east at earlier times, at least if indigenous people were directly involved in new practices (Figure 4.3). Unlike cattle and pigs, sheep and goats have had a less glamorous ethnographic press. There are, however, suggestive examples. Sheep are a significant sacrificial animal for the Tandroy people of southern Madagascar, after cattle (Parker Pearson 2000, 225).

Excavation in 2000 at Ecsegfalva 23 on the Great Hungarian Plain, with shepherd, sheep and dog in attendance.

Figure 4.3 Excavation in 2000 at Ecsegfalva 23 on the Great Hungarian Plain, with shepherd, sheep and dog in attendance.

Among pastoralists in western Mongolia sheep’s tibiae represented patrilineal descent or genealogical descent, and were particularly important in communications between people and ancestors (Szynkiewicz 1994). The taste of sheep, their appearance (whether or not fleeces were shorter- rather than longer-haired at this stage), the sound of their voices, and even the style of their physical motion, could have made these animals a novelty in their right at this early date. If they were milked, this might have been easier than with cattle (cf. Halstead 1998). Their slaughter would have produced, as noted already, smaller and handier quantities of meat for consumption. Despite supposed ecological barriers or constraints, it seems clear that some effort was made in earliest LBK contexts to keep herds of sheep and goats (Uerpmann and Uerpmann 1997).

People were bound closely to animals, both wild and domestic, on a daily basis. Animals may have guided, in a real physical sense, many of the routines of daily life.It has been argued that the shift from hunting to husbandry represents a shift from trust to domination.A parallel argument has been the creation at the start of the Neolithic of the domus, opposed to the agrios, or wild (Hodder 1990). In turn, both arguments could be seen as attempting to invoke the historical moment when culture and nature were separated and treated as different categories. But in many instances, such a rigid distinction between nature and culture is hard to maintain (e.g. M. Strathern 1980; Descola 1992). Ingold has listed a series of examples (from the Amazon and Colombia to Mali and Mount Hagen in Papua New Guinea) in which horticul-turalists maintain a respectful attitude to their surroundings. For the Achuar of the Upper Amazon, for example, the garden is not opposed to the forest, for the forest is itself like a huge garden (Descola 1994); Hageners do not oppose planting and the domestic realm to wild nature, but the realm of people to what lies outside human care and sociability (M. Strathern 1980; Ingold 2000, 83). For the millennia under discussion here, especially in the early phases of the establishment of new practices, I suggest a similar range of attitudes to animals: varied and ambiguous.

If people were frequently of indigenous descent, and encountered, used and thought about wild animals regularly, it seems plausible that attitudes of respect and trust, found frequently in ethnographic descriptions (e.g. for north-west coast America, Hymes 1990; De Laguna 1990; Kennedy and Bouchard 1990), would have endured towards animals in general. This is certainly also compatible with the closeness and intimacy of the likely relationship with domestic animals. We know little of the scale of herds, though possible maximum figures (e.g. Dahl and Hjort 1976) allow for the possibility that people knew each of their animals individually. Speculatively, there may also have been feelings of guilt in regard to animals, for altering an older relationship through domestication (cf. Eliade 1968). The suggestion that red deer in Britain may have had an ambiguous status (Sharples 2000) has already been noted. In areas such as this, and in those parts of central Europe where wild animals seem to have been less numerically important (Dohle 1993; Jeunesse and Arbogast 1997), it could be that wild animals were left alone as a mark of continuing respect, to compensate for the changing nature of the relationship with domesticates.

Animals were not only an ever-present natural symbol, but their tending constituted people themselves as social symbols. The socialities of husbandry have been comparatively little commented upon in the archaeological literature. Looking after cattle among the Nuer and Dinka was at the core of male identity (Evans-Pritchard 1940; Lienhardt 1961). Among the Tandroy, ‘men and women own cattle but only boys and men take them to pastures, bring them home to the cattle pens, castrate them, kill them, and exchange them with other men’ (Parker Pearson 2000, 221—2). The life of Tandroy cattle boys can be removed from the rest of the domestic sphere for months at a time, but there has been little further comment on the socialities involved even in this. The practice of combating risk by placing animals with kin and other allies is widespread (Parker Pearson 2000, 224; Halstead 1999; Dahl and Hjort 1976; Dahl 1979). Animals being herded at a distance from settlements would still have embodied numerous relationships, and the herders would have stood for these links as well. Presumably cattle, pigs, sheep and goats ranged at varying distances from settlements. Tending them may have been a year-round occupation, despite the frequent arguments for the necessity of providing winter fodder in the Alpine foreland. Speculatively, cattle keeping could have taken herders further afield for longer periods of the year. Cattle may therefore have been associated with a tension between solitariness and extreme commonality, when people and herds came together and slaughter and large-scale consumption took place. Sheep and goats, at least on the evidence of Horgen Scheller (Akeret and Jacomet 1997), might have browsed closer to settlements, and their tending and their consumption, as already suggested, might both have been associated with a more constant, domestic sociality. Pigs have been closely tended in the past (e.g. Halpern 1999), and could also have been associated with close control around the domestic sphere of houses and gardens. In some areas at least, such as the Alpine foreland or the Carpathian basin, the frequency of hunting might suggest a group rather than an individual activity, and in this instance again there may have been a tension between solitary time in the woodland and the sociability of return. We can remember here the Foi men who spend much of their time in the gregarious life of the communal longhouse thinking about their hunting forays in the bush.The particular importance given to red deer and then cattle may reside partly in the facts of sociality (‘good to be with’ and ‘good to be seen with’), and not be reducible either to their natural or ascribed symbolism (‘good to think’) or their taste (‘good to eat’).

Thinking animals

I have tried so far to emphasise the physical immediacy of animals in people’s lives, as well as the varied ways in which they might have been classified and treated, including with reference to their own and human sociality. I want now to consider further how animals may have been treated as symbols. As I have already considered the household scale in the last topic, with reference to variations in animal keeping, I will concentrate in this section on more public arenas. In both cases, I argue that the nature of activity and the selections made speak for a close connection with animals as food, while the scale of activity indicates the involvement of smaller rather than larger social groups; though animals were regularly transformed into bones which operated as metaphor and metonym, the intimacy of the context may normally have brought to this sphere something of their living physicality and the close lived relationship between people and animals. Later on, I will underline this by comparing household and other situations with the way natural creatures were treated in contemporary late forager communities; the appearance of domesticates may have intensified the ways in which late Mesolithic hunter-gatherers represented creatures important to them.

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