Anthropology professor Natalie Munro recently traveled to Israel, to conduct research as part of an international team at one of the last hunter-gatherer sites in that part of the world.
Located two kilometers east of the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel, the archaeological site is called Nahal Ein Gev II. The site dates to 12,000 years ago, the very end of the Paleolithic periods when people still hunted and gathered for a living. This period is of special interest because it immediately precedes the first agricultural Neolithic communities and thus presents many clues about why people abandoned their hunter-gatherer lifestyle for agriculture in the first place.
The people from Nahal Ein Gev had already begun to process wild cereals, build substantial architecture, and create special burial areas for their dead, providing evidence for new economic and ritual practices that continued into the agricultural periods. This evidence shows that they had already begun to make the shifts to an agricultural community even before plants and animals had been domesticated.
Munro is the archaeozoologist at the site, where she studies animal remains such as bones and teeth.
She says that because of the sedentary nature of the community, the residents needed to exploit a wide range of animal taxa, including small game types that were not especially cost-effective, such as tortoises, hares, fish (carps), geese, and partridges. The gazelle was the most common taxon hunted by the Natufian, though other larger-bodied taxa, such as wild cattle, red deer, fallow deer, roe deer, and wild boar, were also occasionally hunted and eaten. This pattern of animal exploitation indicates that the residents of this area were ultimately pushed to adopt agriculture, as wild resources were no longer sufficiently abundant to support growing populations.
The site’s residents occasionally traveled to the Sea of Galilee to fish and capture waterfowl, but when they did so, they targeted the largest fish and bird taxa (large carps and geese) to make the journey worthwhile.