Understanding the Transition from the Late Neolithic to the Early Copper Age Using Faunal Analysis from Two Balkan Region Early Copper Age Sites: Vésztő-Bikeri and Körösladány-Bikeri, Hungary
This study examines the ratios of animal species identified from faunal remains at two sites, Vésztő-Bikeri (V-20) and Körösladány-Bikeri (K-14), inhabited during the Early Copper Age (4500-4000 BCE) by people of the Tiszapolgár culture. The importance of this study lies in developing a greater understanding of the dramatic social changes that swept through this region during the transition from the Late Neolithic to the Early Copper Age. While there are a variety of possible explanations as to why these social changes have occurred, animal practices influenced by cultural choice may have had a significant effect on social reorganization in the Carpathian Basin. Through archaeological excavations, the faunal remains for this study were collected at the Körösladány-Bikeri site in 2005 to 2006 and compared with those from previous excavations at Vésztő-Bikeri from 2000 to 2003. Bones were calibrated using radio-carbon dating and classified by animal species and categorized as either domesticated, wild, or unknown. The results reveal a greater presence of domesticated animals during the Early Copper Age, showing a steady increase in sheep and goat husbandry and a decrease in cattle herding compared to the Late Neolithic. A stable environment combined with an increased familiarity of the land and with animal husbandry shows that the changes are a result of cultural choice. This analysis is a stepping-stone to understanding the basic way of life of the Tiszapolgár people of this region, their cultural choices, and their dramatic social transition.
Beginning in 1998 the Körös Regional Archaeological Project, led by Dr. William Parkinson, Dr. Richard Yerkes and Attila Gyucha, has aimed to understand the transition from the Late Neolithic (ca. 5000-4500 BC) to the Early Copper Age (ca 4500-4000 BC). The project has utilized a variety of methods to carry out the research such as surface survey, settlement pattern studies based on systematic excavation, palaeoenvironmental reconstruction, palaeo-geomorphology, and geophysical prospection (Parkinson, et al. 2004). The sites chosen for excavation are Vésztő-Bikeri (V-20) and Körösladány-Bikeri (K-14) (Figures 1 and 2). These two sites are ideally located in the central part of the chosen study area. Vésztő-Bikeri is a single-component Tiszapolgár settlement with daub concentrations on the surface which were hypothesized to be from Early Copper Age houses (Parkinson, et al. 2004). Körösladány-Bikeri, the second site, also has burnt daub remains connected with the Tiszapolgár during the Early Copper Age. Unlike Vésztő-Bikeri where most of the remains, minus a few exceptions, were dated to the Early Copper Age, at Körösladány-Bikeri pottery and features dating to the Late Bronze Age (1500-800 BCE), Sarmatian (2nd to 4th century ACE), and Árpádian (end of the 1st millennium ACE) periods were discovered (Parkinson, et al. 2004).
The research conducted to date by the Körös Regional Archaeological Project shows an increase in economic intensification and settlement integration at the beginning of the Copper Age (Parkinson, et al. 2004). Several of the trends that are seen in the archaeological record are smaller, more numerous, and dispersed single-component settlements as opposed to the multi-component Late Neolithic settlements, changes in mortuary practice, and the restructuring of long-distance trade network (Parkinson, et al. 2004). Additionally, at the beginning of the Early Copper Age, the utilization of animals for secondary products spread to the Balkan region (Sherratt 1981, 1983). Marking the "secondary products revolution," people stopped killing animals at young ages so that they could be exploited for milk and wool, and used as draft animals (Sherratt 1981, 1983). Since very little is known about the transition from the Late Neolithic to the Early Copper Age, the study of animal remains through faunal analysis is key to understanding the dramatic social changes that swept the region.
Faunal analysis consists of the "characterization of animal exploitation strategies.through taxon abundance, age profiles of domestic herd species, and spatial patterning of animal remains" (Nicodemus 2003). Very few faunal remains have been collected from the Early Copper Age and those that have been excavated come primarily from cemeteries (Bökönyi 1974). Thus, the excavations from the settlement sites Vésztő-Bikeri and Körösladány-Bikeri are extremely valuable in understanding the impact of domestication and how it affected the region. Animals were possibly beginning to be raised for very specific purposes and kept alive longer. Ramifications of this shifting animal economy might have influenced the dramatic social changes evident in the archaeological record indicating specialization, restructuring at the household level, and smaller settlements dispersed throughout the landscape to accommodate the new animal practices and the need for particular grazing lands. It can show an increasing familiarity and comfort with the environment as the Tiszapolgár become skilled herders.
Sandor Bökönyi claims that in Central and Eastern Europe, cattle are the most essential of all domesticated animals (Bökönyi 1974). He gives three reasons for this assertion. First, plains are prime geographical location and climatically ideal for cattle herding. Second, it is essential that wild animals are present in order to domesticate and increase the amount of domesticated animals from the wild stock. Third, cows could be exploited for meat, milk, and as draft animals, making it the most useful of all domesticated animals. Wild cows were native to the Hungarian plain region, making a wild stock of cattle readily available, unlike sheep and goat, which were indigenous to the Middle East. Increased cattle husbandry, pursuant to Bökönyi's theory, would require frequent relocation of settlement sites due to overgrazing (Parkinson, et al. 2004). Consequently, if this theory is correct, the exploitation of cattle may explain some of the social changes seen in the archaeological record as more space and grazing land would be needed for cattle to thrive. However, empirical evidence in support of Bökönyi's theory is lacking and is thus addressed in this study.
It is important to understand what types of animals were being exploited and in what quantities. Not only is it necessary to understand the ratios of wild to domestic animals, as that is indicative of various cultural practices, but it will also shed light on the transformation seen in the archaeological record. This study is designed to gain a deeper understanding of the types of animals and ratios of animals that were present at these two Early Copper Age sites. The goals are to understand whether the Tiszapolgár engaged in a mixed economy consisting of herding, farming, and hunting or whether domestication fever caused the socioeconomic reorganization and also to test Bökönyi's theories about Central and Eastern European settlements. Further, this study aims to shed light on the cultural choices made by the Tiszapolgár as revealed by animal domestication.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
The animal remains from Körösladány-Bikeri were recovered from the plowzone, and cultural layers of large excavation blocks (Blocks three, four and, five) during the 2005-2006 field season. The Vésztő-Bikeri faunal assemblages came from 2x2 m test excavation units and large excavation blocks (Blocks 1-9) that were investigated between 2000 and 2003 (Parkinson, et al. 2004). The faunal remains from both sites were brought back to the lab and checked-in during which the total weight and count of the bones in each bag was recorded. The bones were then cleaned using dental instruments and identified. The Atlas of Animal Bones by Elisabeth Schmid, Elsevier Publishing 1972, and the Anatomy of the Domestic Animals by Septimus Sisson, W.B. Saunders Company 1953, were used as guides to facilitate with the recognition of the species and the bones. These references contained drawings of complete animal bones that were then compared with the bones excavated.
Identification entailed determining both the species and the bone element, if possible, and categorized by number of individual specimens (NISP). Side, sex, and age were also noted depending on the condition of the bone. In some instances only the species or bone piece was able to be determined, and sometimes neither could be recognized. The bones were then organized into a series of categories. The largest categories consisting of domesticated animals were grouped into cattle, sheep/goat, or pig. The rest of the categories were wild animals. Due to the difficulty in differentiating sheep and goat bones, a separate category of "sheep/goat" is used for sheep or goat bones that were not identified unambiguously. Fragments in which the species was not determinable but the size of the animal was identifiable were accordingly placed into small, medium, or large mammal. Bones that were highly fragmented, poorly preserved, or unidentifiable were placed into the unidentified category.
At V-20, there were 11, 264 total mammalian bones and 11,363 at K-14.The results from V-20 and K-14 yielded a mixture of wild and domesticated animals. The wild animals found at both sites included Canis lupus (wolf), Bos primigenius (auroch), Cervus elaphus (red deer), Capreolus capreolus (roe deer), Sus scrofa (wild swine), Lepus europaeus (brown hare), Castor fiber (beaver), and Mustelidae (mustelid). Sciurus vulgaris (red squirrel) was found at K-14 but not at V-20. Rodents were found at both sites. At both sites, a variety of wild non-mammals were uncovered. V-20 yielded a total of 403 fish bones, while K-14 yielded 1, 376 fish bones remains. Birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mollusks were also found at V-20 and K-14.
Although it is necessary to look at wild animals, ratios of different domesticated animals are equally important. Larger wild and domestic mammals, excluding rodents, make up 96% of the total finds at V-20 and at K-14 larger mammals make up 98% of the total finds. Domestic mammals alone constitute 95% of the identified mammals at V-20 and 91% of the identified mammals at K-14. There were twice as many cattle remains at V-20 (1,095) than at K-14. cattle remains were found at V-20 (639). 940 sheep/goat were found at V-20 and 858 sheep/goat were found at K-14 . 710 pig were found at V-20 and 595 pig were found at K-14. There were 2, 808 domestic remains at V-20 and 2, 107 at K-14 which includes cattle, sheep/goat, pig, and dog. At V-20 there were 210 wild animals and at K-14 there were 122 total wild animals and which includes aurochs, wild pig, and red deer (Figures 3 and 4).
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS
The data and theories of László Bartosiewicz (2005) can shed light on the current study. Bartosiewicz observed that in the Early Neolithic (6000-5500 BCE) the ideal climate allowed for the expansion of animal husbandry northwards towards the Balkans. The people of the Körös culture brought with them southeastern livestock but these animals were not well-suited for life on the Carpathian Basin. Introduced species, such as sheep and goat, "could not be upgraded by local domestication in the absence of the wild forms in the marshy environment", (Bartosiewicz 2005). For example, bones with arthritic deformations reveal that the sheep originating from the southeast were stressed in the new environment, which was humid and cool (Bartosiewicz 2005). In the Early Neolithic introduced sheep/goat remains surpassed those of domestic cattle and pig (which could have been domesticated from local wild stock and would be better adapted to the wetter conditions on the Great Hungarian Plain). "Local" wild animals - aurochs, wild pig, and red deer - were not nearly as prevalent as they were in the Middle and Late Neolithic periods (Figure 5, Chart A).
In the Middle Neolithic (5500-5000 BCE) domesticated cattle and pig become much more important. Hunting did not occur in great frequency. In the Middle and Late Neolithic (5000-4500 BCE) auroch hunting was becoming quite common in Hungary, but in the Middle Neolithic the frequency of wild animals was not as high as in the Late Neolithic. Wild and domestic herds of cattle intermixed, as evidenced by bones found at settlements. The frequency of wild pig was not as great compared to the Late Neolithic. (Figure 5, Chart B).
Finally, in the Late Neolithic, Bartosiewicz noted a significant change is seen in the record. Sheep and goat appeared in much fewer numbers. Locally domesticated cattle and pigs decreased slightly during the Late Neolithic and hunting increased. The remains of large game animals (aurochs, wild pig, and red deer) occurred in much greater frequency. By the Late Neolithic, wild animals were much more important to the economy and were found in much greater frequency. This supports the theory that hunting played an important role. As argued by Bartosiewicz, this is evidenced by food remain and artifacts from various sites. Boar tusks in burials and red deer canines found in jewelry also support this contention (Bartosiewicz 2005). Finally, another trend seen is that non-local sheep and goats declined from the Early to the Middle to the Late Neolithic, while locally domesticated cattle and pigs increase during the Middle Neolithic (Figure 5, Chart C)
When examining the relationships between animal species through the early to Late Neolithic Bartosiewicz found that hunting and animal keeping are non-correlated. Neolithic economies consisted mainly of large game from the forest and domestic ruminants, with sheep/goat more prevalent than wild animals until the Late Neolithic. The preponderance of sheep/goat influence is reflected in tools, such as the special Körös point with a flat handle made from the distal end of the sheep/goat metapodium (Bartosiewicz 2005).
Bartosiewicz concludes that that the trends discussed above occurred in a similar environment, making it unlikely that climatic change is responsible for the major shift seen in the animal economy and the increase in hunting in the Late Neolithic. The wild animals heavily utilized in the Late Neolithic were available to the earlier Körös culture. Bartosiewicz suggests that the high presence of sheep and goat and lack of other animals seen in the Early Neolithic Körös culture was a result of the people engaging in herding techniques that were familiar. They continued their traditional form of animal keeping once they arrived to the Carpathian Basin. They knew how to raise sheep and goat and were not as interested in exploiting the other animal resources in the area:The heavy emphasis on the exploitation of sheep and the relative disregard for the local wild fauna.may show that sheep and goat, in fact, arrived with pastoral communities to the Carpathian Basin who tried to stick to their traditional stock as long as possible, in the face of an environment that was less than ideal for sheep and goat keeping. Meanwhile large game, abundant in the broader environment, was evidently of secondary interest to Körös culture herders who stuck to their pastoral tradition. (Bartosiewicz 2005: 60)
Bartosiewicz further suggests that the increased exploitation of wild animals along with the utilization of domestic animals seen in the Late Neolithic is connected with multi-layer settlements, which in turn, demonstrates the increased complexity of social organization. This pattern is quite different from the smaller and less permanent settlements of the newly arrived early Neolithic Körös culture. Consequently, Bartosiewicz contends that the Early and Late Neolithic had very different views towards animal raising and hunting. The newly arrived Körös culture were more protective of their herds and the people of the Late Neolithic felt more comfortable exploiting their surroundings as they were becoming more complex.
Bartosiewicz's Neolithic data and theories regarding the changes seen in the archaeological record can be used to understand the transition between the Late Neolithic and the Early Copper Age. The data from the Early Copper Age settlements at V-20 and K-14 suggest that the changes seen in the Early Copper Age are a result of cultural choice and not external environmental influences (Figure 5, Chart D).
In the Early Copper Age, sheep/goat reverse the trend seen in the Early to Late Neolithic, and increased significantly, while pigs and cattle return to the Middle Neolithic levels. According to Bartosiewicz's article, in the Late Neolithic sheep/goat contributed to about 13% of the animals exploited in this region. On the other hand, results from V-20 and K-14 show that sheep/goat contributed to 35% of the total amount of animals exploited. This huge shift suggests that the choice was cultural. Further support of this conclusion can be seen in the change of settlement pattern.
In the Late Neolithic the houses were multi-component and often surrounded by fortification ditches and/or palisades (Parkinson, et al. 2004) Associated with that period and particular settlement pattern is a trend of exploiting cattle as well as a high frequency of hunting. In the Early Copper Age, the houses became more dispersed, smaller, and numerous, similar to the pattern seen in the Early Neolithic. With both types of settlement patterns (Early Neolithic and Early Copper Age), sheep and goats were exploited at a much higher rate. This shows that the Tiszapolgár were more comfortable with their environment and more willing to experiment with animal husbandry and hunting techniques. In the Early Neolithic sheep/goats were predominant because the Tiszapolgár were new to the land and overprotective of their original domestic stock of sheep and goat better adapted to Mediterranean climate brought by the Körös settlers from the East in the early Neolothic (Bartosiewicz 2005). The subsequent changes show that as the Tiszapolgár became more familiar with the land and the environment, they were not as protective and were becoming increasingly flexible and innovative not only with their animal husbandry but also with their social organization. They were able to integrate their sheep and goats with the local wild animals and domesticated cattle and pigs native to the area. They were not dependent on wild animals, making it easier to decide where to settle. Settlement and cultural practices were changing. Finally, there is no evidence of human population growth associated with the increase in domesticated animals in the Early Copper Age faunal samples. This seems to suggest that as social change and adaptation occurs in a population, it impacts they ways in which a population interacts with their surroundings.
Various explanations for these changes suggest that the Tiszapolgár probably had a larger commitment to agriculture and an increased reliance on domesticated animals, which is supported by the significant drop in the presence of wild animals. In the Late Neolithic, wild animals contributed to 43 % of the total animals found (Bartosiewicz 2005). On the other hand, at V-20 and K-14, wild animals contributed to only 5% of the total animals. Hunting and the presence of wild animals dropped appreciably in the Early Copper Age. The drastic drop in hunting compared to the Late Neolithic may be explained by the success of herding and the possible increase in herd size. It may be further explained by the ability for the Tiszapolgár to rely more on domesticated animals for subsistence as they spread across the landscape. An even more increased familiarity with the land combined with a greater sense of confidence suggests that the Tiszapolgár were becoming even more complex as they were able to change and respond to their needs and wants, compared to the Late Neolithic. All of these factors combined lead to the conclusion that the mixed hunting and herding economy of the Tiszapolgár was a product of cultural preference and not the result of external influences, such as the climate.
Bökönyi suggests that cattle were the essential animals in the Tiszapolgár herding economy but the results from V-20 and K-14 do not support this theory. Even though there are more cattle at V-20, when V-20 and K-14 totals are combined and compared to the Late Neolithic, this theory does not hold up. Although in the Late Neolithic cattle contributed to 44% of the total animals and increased to 60% in the Early Copper, the sudden surge of sheep and goat remains reveals that cattle are not as essential as Bökönyi theorizes. This demonstrates that not only is the Great Hungarian Plain conducive to more than one type of animal herding, but also that the Tiszapolgár did not specialize. They engaged in mixed herding, farming, and hunting. (Parkinson, et al. 2004).
This study and comparative analysis is just a stepping stone to understanding the social changes seen in the archaeological record through faunal analysis. Further research is will shed more light on the transition between the Late Neolithic and Early Copper Ages because this region has not been extensively studied or excavated by archaeologists.
I thank Dr. Richard Yerkes, the Ohio State University and Dr. William Parkinson, Florida State University, and Attila Gyucha for the great experience I had on the Körös Regional Archaeological Project 2005 dig and for all of their guidance with this article. I also thank the National Science Foundation for providing the funding for the project. Thanks also to Michael H. Passman for his assistance.
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