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22 February 2013
Did overhunting lead to domestication?

A new study on the populations of wild cattle and pigs in the Levant Valley by Nimrod Marom of the University of Haifa, Israel, helps reshape our present understanding on the beginning of agriculture and domestication of animals.
     The 9th to 8th millennium BP site at Sha'ar Hagolan was used to study human interaction with wild pigs and cattle in a period just before the appearance of domesticated species in the Jordan Valley.
     The early Neolithic village was occupied for about 8000 years during what is known as the Yarmukian Culture. The site is already famous for the remarkable assemblages of figurines, one of the structures yielding approximately 70 made of carved pebbles or fired clay. No other single site of this period has produced so many figurines in a single building. It is also one of the first sites in the area where pottery is found.
     At the centre of the village stood a large, well-constructed building, with a courtyard reached from the narrow winding alley which runs between the domestic structures. Several rectangular rooms with thick mud brick walls, and one circular room for storing grain, were built around the courtyard.
     Results indicate that full domestication of both cattle and pigs occurred at the site during the 8th millennium BP, and were preceded by severe overhunting. Body-size in cattle and pigs was significantly smaller than that of the local wild populations during the earliest phase of settlement at the site, in the Pre Pottery Neolithic. This can be directly linked to an evolving human-animal relationship.

Edited from Plos One, Past Horizons (11 February 2013)

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