Gwendoline Maurer (UCL) - 2018-19 Students

Diaspora Subsistene Strategies: Tracing 3rd millennium migrants to the Levant

The prime project aim is to explore the animal-based subsistence of the distinct Kura-Araxes cultural group, one of the best archaeologically documented cases of prehistoric migrations. The Kura-Araxes – also known as the Early Transcaucasian phenomenon – is a long lived and geographically widespread archaeological complex, in which Early Bronze Age migrants from the Caucasus expanded through Russia, southeastern Anatolia, the Iranian plateau and as far as the Southern Levant during the 3rd millennium BC. The migrants took with them highly distinctive material culture and settlement types, and Kura-Araxes occupations tend to be found in areas of locally emerging social complexity, raising questions about the nature of interaction between close-proximity but different ‘identity’ groups.

The Kura-Araxes subsistence base is currently a highly topical research area, aimed at exploring how groups organized their food production and consumption. Subsistence economy is currently under study at 10 sites in the Caucasus, but while a handful of Southern Levantine sites show hints of Kura-Araxes occupation, no research to date has targeted the animal-based subsistence in this area which represents the most southerly point of expansion.

The archaeological site of Tel Bet Yerah (Israel) is the most significant and best excavated Kura-Araxes occupation in the Southern Levant. Nearly a decade of excavations (2009- 2018) has yielded the largest Kura-Araxes assemblage of exceptionally preserved animal remains (ca. 30,000) known in the Southern Levant. Tel Bet Yerah is unique among all known Kura-Araxes sites in that it shows the side-by-side habitation of migrants and the local population at this Early Bronze Age urban center (2700 B.C.E- 2400 B.C.E).

Through the original and unique study of the Tel Bet Yerah animal bone assemblage, this doctoral project will fill a large gap in the understanding of Kura-Araxes social organization and interactions with local groups. To date, there is no research on either the migratory nature of Kura-Araxes cultural groups, or on how they negotiated their socio-cultural world while co-existing with complex local communities. Tel Bet Yerah will provide the first case-study where these questions can directly be investigated and thus provide key insights into the concept of ‘diaspora’ in prehistory.

Research questions will focus on whether Kura-Araxes migrants maintained a distinct or assimilated cultural, social and economic identity, by comparing the Kura-Araxes with the local faunal assemblages. Social organization and interactions will be investigated through understanding the use of domestic livestock and wild animals, animal management decisions, the products they provide, understanding how they were processed and prepared, exchanged, consumed and disposed of. Animal treatment and food choices are dictated by social norms, and thus detailed zooarchaeological analyses (in which I have MSc level training) can be used to reconstruct social climates.

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