Between sacred and profane: Human-animal relationships at Abu Tbeirah (southern Iraq) in the 3rd millennium BCE

Alhaique, Francesca, Licia Romano, Franco D’Agostino

The site of Abu Tbeirah, excavated since 2012 by an Iraqi-Italian archaeological mission, is located about 15 Km NE of Ur (Nasiriya, Dhi Qar province, southern Iraq) and covers a surface of about 42 ha. The investigations in different areas of the settlement evidenced so far some buildings, several burials and a harbor dated to the second half of the third millennium, between the end of the Early Dynastic and the beginning of the Akkadian period (D’Agostino, Romano, in press; D’Agostino et al. in press).

A large faunal assemblage has been collected during the last seven field seasons from residential contexts as well as in association with human burials (Alhaique et al. in press). Archaeozoological analysis identified mainly domestic animals, while wild species are more rare; furthermore, fish and mollusk remains show that the environment in the surroundings of the site was probably similar to the present-day Iraqi Marshes. The presentation will explore the role played by the animals in the different contexts of the site integrating faunal data with other archaeological and environmental evidence.


Ox saliva, horse sweat, and gecko blood: Contextualizing peculiar animal ingredients in medical prescriptions from ancient Mesopotamia

Arbøll, Troels Pank

Medical texts from ancient Mesopotamia have provided us with a wealth of information regarding therapeutic ingredients, prescriptions and diagnoses. The therapeutic texts occasionally prescribe the use of peculiar animal substances, such as ox saliva, horse sweat, and gecko blood. Although we know some of the animal products were coded names for plant materials, a select number of genuine, yet strange, animal ingredients are regularly employed. But why were these substances included in medical prescriptions, and what function did they serve?

This talk will present a number of seemingly odd animal ingredients listed in ancient Mesopotamian therapeutic texts in order to discuss the reason behind their application, as well as the role of such substances within individual prescriptions. By considering how the ancient Mesopotamians encountered and conceptualized the animal from which a given material originated, as well as examining the creature’s physical properties and evaluating potential modern medical qualities of the ingredient, it is possible to identify conceptual overlaps explaining the ancient magico-medical efficacy of the substance. This presentation will collect and analyse select animal ingredients by contextualizing the animals, their physiology, and the treated illness within Mesopotamian society and culture, in order to illustrate why these peculiar animal substances were considered sound methods of healing.


Ducks, geese and swans: Anatidae in Mesopotamia from iconographic, archaeological and textual data

Battini, Laura

Anatidae are largely diffused in glyptic and in clay production but rarely attested in official representations. Texts, especially administrative, give other information, while archaeozoological data are very scanty. From these various sources this communication sketches a history of human / anatidae relations in historical Mesopotamia.


Animals in ancient Babylonian healing therapies

Böck, Barbara

Animals play an important role in cuneiform medicine. Not only ingredients of vegetable and mineral origin were used in remedies but also animal products, some of which even as single ingredient. In addition, ancient Babylonian practitioners frequently resorted to animal material such as tendons, dairy products or lard for the preparation of their medicines. Another feature of the animal-human relationship in medicine is the phenomenon of names: there is a small group of designations which refer literally to animals but are actually plants such as the name “lion’s blood” which is an alternative name for the “sap of tamarisk”. Furthermore both domestic and wild animals appear often in healing incantations in which they served as medium or vehicle to explain diseases or to expel them. The aim of the paper is to throw, for the first time, light on the animals employed as ingredient and mentioned in drug names and to discuss, also for the first time, in which way they interfered with the human world and were used as explanatory model.


What was eating a harvest? A few remarks on ancient Egyptian pests and pest control

Brachmańska, Malwina

In this specific fragment of papyrus Sallier I (6,1-6,9) one can read about the hardships experienced by farmers. Among the hardships, pests seem to be the most devastating threat. That statement can be confirmed as well by other sources. Analysis shows that the fields of ancient Egyptians were plagued by numerous pests: birds, rodents, vermin, insects (including locusts), and even hippos and…donkeys. Furthermore, some of those pests also ate crops stored in granaries and house pantries. To protect their harvests, ancient Egyptians must have devised different methods of pest control, using either their practical knowledge and/or magical thinking. Currently a few of these are known or can be deduced.

The aim of the paper is to characterize the place of pests in the ancient Egyptian world and the way in which the pests were perceived. For this purpose, iconographical, textual, as well as archeo-entomological sources will be analysed and interpreted. This will result in determining how these pests were portrayed, their activity, their degree of harmfulness, and finally in describing the control measures which were taken against them.


Wild fauna in 4th and 3rd millennia Upper Mesopotamia: Evidence from the glyptic

Devillers, Anne

The study of wild paleofaunas is a research field that has significantly developed over recent years, exploring the role that they played in relation to past societies, domestication processes, historical distribution ranges and their importance as bio-indicators in the study of paleoenvironments. With a focus on Upper Mesopotamia in the 4th and 3rd millennia, the image given by glyptic iconography of the contemporary wild megafauna is explored and the reliability of this corpus as a data source is discussed through comparison with other available data sources, mainly the archaeozoological records available. A probable model of the fauna of northern Mesopotamia in the 4th and 3rd millennia, based on a predictive paleoecological analysis, is used to evaluate the descriptive value of the iconographic record. The latter proves to offer the same degree of species representativeness as the archaeozoological data, providing however a greater degree of regional and temporal detail due to the larger quantity of sources available. Several convergences and divergences can be noted between the iconographical and archaeozoological datasets, such as a significant difference in the proportion of wild vs. domestic fauna throughout the area and periods considered. The relative representation of animals in local sub-regions also provides useful information on limits of range, habitats, movements, biogeographical processes and symbolic significance of species.


Animal names in Akkadian naming traditions

Dirbas, Hekmat

The purpose of this paper is to discuss how the people of ancient Mesopotamia perceived animals through their naming traditions.   

The Akkadian onomastic repertoire exhibits a large number of personal names referring to animals, from the Old Akkadian period to the Neo-/Late Babylonian period. This continuity in using animal names over more than two millennia suggests a naming tradition that is rooted in special perceptions of animals in terms of imagery, religion, or practical benefit. The paper will reflect on this question.

The paper consists of four parts:

– Part one exhibits a taxonomy of personal names denoting animals according to their categories/sub-categories (wild versus domesticated; mammals, birds, reptiles, etc.).

– Part two discusses the use of animal names in theophoric names: in the construct state (such as dog/sheep/goat-of-God) and as divine elements and epithets (DN-is-X-animal). The focus in this part will be on the question of whether names from the latter category echo an ancient totemistic belief or animal worship.     

– Using iconographical examples and information from literary and religious texts, part three sheds light on the probable reasons for using animal names: (1) the nickname theory (mocking designations or expressions of tenderness?); (2) the omen theory; (3) the astral theory (astral bodies or real animals?), and (4) naming as a family tradition (two family members, or more, bearing animal names).

– Part four deals with the distribution of these names in society, that is, in relation to social status (free people versus slaves) and gender. 


Animals in the wild, animals in the cult: Ritual and landscape interactions with animals in 2nd Millennium Anatolia

Erskine, Neil

Animal representations are a common and well-researched feature amongst the cultic paraphernalia of the ancient Near East. The literature regarding real-world animals and their place in the ancient world is also considerable. Far rarer, however, are investigations that consider how encounters with real-world animals inform perceptions of their cousins in the cultic realm, and vice versa.

In part, the lack of attention paid to the relationship between these different forms of human-animal interactions may be rooted in the paucity of explicitly archaeological approaches to socialisation. As interpretative models are most often borrowed from other disciplines rather than developed with a material-focus at their centre, vague data-theory connections leave archaeologists without effective frameworks with which to examine how individuals interacted with and learned about their world.

This paper addresses these issues with a new approach, drawing upon Giles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, who offer many analytical tools that can directly connect highly theoretical interpretations of ancient societies to archaeological data. By stressing how humans understand the world through their accumulated previous experiences, Deleuze and Guattari direct the archaeologist to consider how identifiable human interactions with objects and places informed their subsequent experiences, and therefore their developing perceptions of their surroundings.

To demonstrate this approach, a case study of animal encounters in early second millennium BCE Anatolia is examined. By exploring both cultic interactions with animal representations, and encounters with real-life animals in the wild, their reflexive experiential power is considered and a reconstruction of the cumulative embedding of meaning in animals, the landscape, and cultic paraphernalia is developed.


Human-animal relationships / human-animal studies: Cat in ancient Egypt; dog and jackal in ancient Egypt

Fadum, Marina, Carina Gruber

The purpose of our papers is to look into the representation of the cat in ancient Egyptian society as well as the dog and jackal in ancient Egyptian society. The first paper, written by Mag. Fadum, is concerned with the representation of the cat in ancient Egyptian society. The second paper, written by Mag. Gruber, analyses the dog and the jackal in ancient Egypt. Both papers use human-animal studies perspectives where applicable.

The first paper examines the representation of the cat in ancient Egyptian society. A human-animal perspective is applied. The study relates four categories to the situation of cats in ancient Egypt: The cat as production animal; as a pet; as a goddess (e.g. Bastet); and as an “Osiris” (an animal mummy). The four categories represent several aspects of human-animal relationships. Archaeological finds have provided evidence of such relationships between humans and cats dating from the Old Kingdom and earlier. Through the study of animal mummies, an animal perspective can be gained on realities of religious practice in ancient Egypt.

The second paper applies similar methodology to consider how the human-dog relationship in ancient Egypt differs from the human-jackal relationship. Instruments in the form of categories are adopted. These include: The dog as guardian and assistant; the dog as companion; the beloved dog as mummified animal; and the dog as sacrificial animal and votive mummy. Similarly, they include: The jackal as a wild animal; and the jackal as a deified animal, this category is divided between the canid deities Anubis, Khentiamentiu, Upuaut/Wepwawet, Duamutef and the non-specific case of the god Seth. Furthermore the study tries to provide a comparison between the human-dog relationship versus the human-jackal relationship. The two studies are shown to be useful in shedding more light on a less well researched area of Egyptology.


Face-to-face with donkeys in Mesopotamia

Goulder, Jill

In 4th-3rd millennium BC Mesopotamia, the systematic use of donkeys and cattle for traction and transport is increasingly recognised as providing vital underpinning to the rapid development of complex societies. Ploughing oxen have often held centre stage in archaeological models of this period, following Sherratt’s proposition of the Secondary Products Revolution. The current body of literature on this crucial period of prehistory lacks a holistic assessment of the mechanics and logistics of the ‘animal industry’, including a thorough reworking of presumptions about ploughing and transportation norms and the social and economic implications of the shift from human to animal motive power.

Donkeys and cattle (both oxen and cows) are used in their millions today for work in developing regions – sub-Saharan Africa in particular – and there is a growing body of recent studies by NGOs and agencies examining the social and economic impact of their adoption, often within the last 50-100 years. There has been only limited archaeological interpretational use of such sources in ancient Near Eastern studies to date; for my impending book I have assessed from close qualitative analysis of hundreds of such studies the likely daily effect in antiquity on farm and household life of working animal adoption for ploughing and local transportation. Donkeys in particular are neglected as an influence, as the marked rarity of donkey remains in the archaeological record has resulted in a profile in the ancient Near East which is at odds with donkey use in modern developing regions.


Trade and transport by donkey during the Early Bronze Age of the ancient Near East: A zooarchaeological and isotopic analysis of the donkey remains from Tell es-Safi/Gath, Israel

Greenfield, Haskel J., Elizabeth Arnold, Tina L. Greenfield, Aren M. Maeir

This paper will introduce recently collected data on domestic donkeys and discuss the importance of this taxon to the religious and economic realms of the Early Bronze Age of the Near East. In recent years, a number of complete and articulated domestic donkey skeletons have been unearthed beneath the floor of later Early Bronze III houses in a domestic neighbourhood at Tell es-Safi/Gath (Israel). One was clearly a foundation deposit as the building was being constructed since it was sacrificed and buried just before the floor was laid. The remains of several additional complete donkey skeletons were discovered in similar contexts – buried beneath the floor of a second building as it was being built across an alleyway. All are from relatively young and healthy females. In addition, various other parts of donkey skeletons have been recovered across the excavation area. These animals were located within a commoner domestic neighborhood at the edge of the city. It has been suggested that this urban space may have been the location of the homes and work spaces of merchants who relied upon donkeys as beasts of burden, and who were involved in trade and exchange of goods across the region during the EBA. This interpretation has been strongly supported by the presence of exotic trade material, such as ivory, and the stable isotope analyses which indicated direct trade connections with Egypt in the EB III. Additional trade connections are examined through further stable isotope analyses by examining the mobility and life history of the recovered asses with a detailed reconstruction of diet, mobility, seasonality and management practices obtained through sequential intra-tooth sampling and carbon, oxygen and strontium isotope analyses. This paper will present the archaeological context, zooarchaeological analysis, and isotopic analysis of these new findings, and discuss their significance in light of Early Bronze Age diet, society, and economy in the region, and household ritual behavior.


Food for the gods? Cremation burials from a Neo-Assyrian provincial capital: A zooarchaeological, iconographic and textual perspective

Greenfield, Tina, Timothy Matney, Dirk Wicke

Neo-Assyrian mortuary deposits have long proven informative regarding the range of behaviours linked to the rituals associated with death and burial.  Based on textual information it is well known that social, economic and political distinctions are reflected in mortuary rituals. A large part of our knowledge stems from the corpus of sacrificial and incantation texts from this time period. Ritual incantations specify the use of certain animals and body parts. The presence or absence of the relevant diagnostics can be used to determine ethnicity, assimilation and social organization. Burial rituals belong to the most conservative social rituals. Changes in burial rites can therefore be an indicator of changes in society and ritual. Therefore, the integration of the analysis of the zooarchaeological remains with textual and iconographic documentation on sacrifice, feasting, and identity can shed light on changes in society that are not well-documented.

And what of the sacrifices made to honor the gods?

In this paper, a rare type of mortuary practice is examined with a focus on the associated animal remains from an archaeological site within the Neo-Assyrian Empire. Cremations burial practices are an uncommon occurrence throughout the empire with a few exceptions found in the NE part of the empire where local Anatolian influences appear to have found their way into this sacred behaviour. Recent archaeological evidence is available to help understand ceremonial, funerary, and ritual events within the empire. Excavations at the site of Ziyaret Tepe the Assyrian provincial capital of Tushan (south eastern Turkey), have added to the small compendium of information on these topics. Five cremation burials found within the palace complex, provide a unique example of emulative behaviour in relation to burial practices. The cremated human remains were deposited in rectangular pits in the open palace’s courtyard while the palace was still in use. While equipped with a rich inventory of Assyrian luxury goods, the habit of cremation appears to follow a local variant of cremation-burials basically unknown to Assyria. Aside from this rich inventory of grave goods, the associated deposits of animal bones appear as direct reflection of ritual behaviour connected to funerary rites. Were these ritual practices part of the Neo-Assyrian cultural tradition? The faunal assemblage from the graves stands apart from the rather mundane assemblage distributed throughout the rest of the palace and other buildings and through the analyses of these aided in answering the questions of identity and cultural assimilation of those buried in the courtyard of the palace. The integration of textual, iconographic and zooarchaeological information furthered our understanding of the funerary rituals associated with these unique mortuary deposits in the context of the Neo-Assyrian Empire.


Waterfowl in the material culture of the Late Bronze Age southern Levant

Greet, Ben

Among the avian material culture of the Late Bronze Age southern Levant, the waterfowl occupies a prominent position. Ceramic bird’s heads, likely attached to bird-shaped bowls, are found across the region. Geese are shown on several seals in this period and duck-shaped ivory cosmetic boxes can be found in a variety of contexts. Lastly, two ivory furniture plaques from Megiddo and Tel Far’ah show banqueting scenes with waterfowl as a main feature.

First, this paper will look at the religious dimensions of these waterfowl images, based on the function and context of the material culture previously mentioned. The duck-shaped bowls and ivory boxes were both found within temple contexts, likely serving within religious rituals to burn incense or carry solid unguent. Goose engraved seals may have demonstrated a personal connection to the Egyptian god Amun and, according to Nataf at least, the waterfowl within the Megiddo and Tel Far’ah plaques form part of a symbolic system connected to Egyptian mortuary cult amongst the Southern Levantine elite.

Second, I will then look at how these waterfowl also serve as elite status markers within southern Levantine society of this period. Duck-shaped ivory boxes have also been found in elite domestic contexts, possibly serving as an expression of Egyptianisation amongst the elite. Similarly, geese on seals may have been an attempt at connecting personal identity to Egyptian hegemonic forces. Lastly, the Megiddo and Tel Far’ah plaques have an alternate interpretation as representations of real hunting practices and the possible domestication of the goose. This last detail may link these waterfowl to the spread of hunting as an elite activity and the raising and eating of the domestic goose as a luxury product.


Behind the scenes: Procuring and producing ancient ivories, a case study from Nimrud

Gwyther, Hannah

Elephant and hippopotamus ivory have been luxury materials throughout human history. Ivories from the 2nd and 1st millennia BCE, found across the Mediterranean and Mesopotamia, are often in the form of ornate adornment panels for wooden furniture. Popular iconography includes scenes depicting ‘animal encounters,’ both peaceful and violent. While much scholarship has been dedicated to unravelling this complex imagery featuring lions, bulls, cows, goats, and composite mythical creatures, there has been less focus on the human/animal relationships that procured the ivory, or how tusks were worked to create intricate artefacts. There are no surviving visual representations of elephant hunts, although such exploits are described in Neo-Assyrian royal texts. But was royal hunting the only means by which ivory was sourced? The quantity of surviving ivory artefacts indicates far more animals were needed to produce these goods than textual records offer.  Questions thus remain regarding the interactions between humans and ivory-bearing animals, and how these relationships supported and produced such an industry. 

This paper draws on my doctoral research, which is applying digital microscopy and scanning electron microscopy (SEM) to investigate ivory working methods in the ancient Mediterranean and Near East. In this talk, I will focus on ivories from Nimrud (c. 900-600 BCE) held at the British Museum. These examples reflect complex relationships between humans and animals, through their iconographic subject matter and their materiality. Preliminary results will be discussed, including the different types of ivory used, how these were worked and displayed, and what this process tells us about the actual (and constructed) relationships between humans and animals.


How to train your chariot horses

Hallett, Dean

The origins of the domestic horse, as a swift herd animal on the plains of the Eurasian Steppe, instilled in it a temperament and physiology that worked marvellously well in conjunction with the chariot. Something, which with great ingenuity and gradual refinement, people of the ancient Near East and surrounding regions made ample use of for transport, prestige, display and warfare. Good horses suitable for chariotry could be hard to acquire and were costly to keep fed, groomed, housed, trained and maintained. Yet despite all of this, such was the reverence for the chariot and chariot horses, that the costs seem to have been worth the rewards for ancient rulers to ensure chariot horses were meticulously cared for. The extensiveness of Kikkuli’s chariot horse training manual and nutritional regime only further highlight the dedication, time and effort that went into physically and mentally training chariot horses, and building strong bonds between the horse team and chariot driver. Insights such as these into the world of chariot horses allow us to enrich our understanding of the dynamic relationship between mankind, the horse and the wheel, a relationship that has driven many contributions to civilization.

This presentation examines the relationship between horses, humans and technology in the ancient Near East. Drawing on a range of interdisciplinary evidence, this paper brings together analysis of domestic and wild horse behaviour, physiology, horse genetics and shifts in vehicle technology and imagery from Sumerian battle cars to Neo-Assyrian chariots. It goes on to investigate Zimri-Lim’s quest for the right colour horses in the Mari Letters, the archaeology of the stables at Megiddo and chariot horse husbandry and training for warfare in the Horse Training Text of Kikkuli.


An animal with human potential: The character of the fox as a reflection on human nature

Jáka-Sövegjártó, Szilvia

The fox was frequently featured in Mesopotamian proverbs and fables as a clever creature who outfoxed other animals, usually more powerful or more numerous. This characteristic is typical for the fox in folklore, both in Asia and Europe. Mesopotamian literary sources featuring the fox are manifold, ranging from proverbs and fables to myths and covering a time span of three millennia. In the proposed talk I would like to focus on the characteristic of the fox as rendered in Sumerian and Akkadian literature.

In literary sources the fox is depicted as a liminal creature. According to proverbs and fables, it stands between the wolf and the dog, that is, between the cruelty of the wilderness and the rigor of the civilization. According to myths (Early Dynastic Ishkur myth, Enki and Ninhursaga) and tales (The fox and Enlil as merchant, The fox requesting horns from Enlil), it stands between animals and gods, being more clever than its peers, still not able to reach the divine sphere. Beyond literary sources, also omen collections point out the ambivalence related to the fox: as the head of a fox has mostly positive connotations, the tail of the fox tends to have negative indications.

The intermediary status of the fox and its cunning and unpredictable nature was, as I will argue, particularly suitable to reflect on human nature which made this skillful animal popular in ancient Near Eastern literature.


A remote sensing model of herd movement in Upper Mesopotamia during the Early Bronze Age

Kalayci, Tuna, John Wainwright

For millennia, wool constituted a significant component of Mesopotamian economies. It was a measure of currency and was collected as tax. As a commodity, the production of wool affected labor relations, gender dynamics and other sectors of socio-economic life. Especially in the third millennium, the transition from flax to wool resulted in the organization of many institutional workshops, and textiles were produced in very high quantities. Therefore, as bearers of the wool, sheep were fundamental agents in Mesopotamian life. For instance, in Ebla, a third millennium city-state in Upper Mesopotamia, some herds reached 67,000 heads. In Presargonic Nabada (Tell Beydar), a single shepherd managed a herd of up to 300 sheep – an indication of a grand number of animals.

The sheep was also a mobile agent and its movement between the settlement and open pasture was frequent. In fact, the archaeology of the mid-to-late Early Bronze Age Upper Mesopotamia provides ample evidence for the impact of herd movement on the landscape. Aerial and satellite imagery reveal ancient paths radiating from EBA settlements that terminate after several kilometers. It has been hypothesized that the controlled and constant movement of herds heavily contributed to the formation of route systems (also called hollow-ways).

This study presents the results of conducts of a multi-spectral satellite data analysis of hollow-ways and models the soil compaction, vegetation productivity, and moisture retention capacities of modern soils as proxy variables for the impact of animal movement. The model highlights spectral differences between different roads and differentiates between potential traffic variations. In turn, in the absence of archaeological and epigraphical data, the variation map indicates sub-regions of Upper Mesopotamia with higher pastoral activities.


Accounting for cattle: Texts and administration in the institutional management of cattle at the first millennium BC Eanna Temple of Uruk

Kozuh, Michael

This presentation will discuss my preliminary conclusions in the study of institutional cattle management at Eanna temple of Uruk in the first millennium BC. Building on the work of van Driel, da Riva, Janković and others, and drawing from a large set of unpublished texts, it first gives a brief overview of the Eanna’s cattle operations. It then examines the textual regime generated in the process of those operations. It will argue that, despite the high-cost, high-value, high-maintenance nature of cattle and cattle rearing, the textual regime is surprisingly mundane in comparison to other facets of institutional animal management. That is, the texts reveal neither any special administrative or legal effort reflecting the esteemed nature of cattle, nor many useful anomalies that one may use to better understand regular operations.

This stands in contrast to the temple’s sheep, the Eanna’s management of which created a particularly rich and variegated set of texts. Indeed, the presentation will show how comparisons between sheep and cattle management can be illuminating. For example, the temple relied almost exclusively on outside contractors for sheep rearing, which then created a unique set of text-heavy administrative and legal situations; although it used some outsiders for cattle breeding and rearing, I will show instead how the Eanna integrated its cattle management into a variety of its other operations (it managed some with internal personnel, some through its diverse agricultural operations, some with outside breeders, etc).

The presentation will then grapple with a fundamental issue: do the differing textual regimes simply reflect the fact that different animals require different regimes of management, or can we connect them to larger currents in the Babylonian economy: on the one hand, a conservative regime of cattle management, of crucial importance but rarely engaging the world outside the temple’s influence; on the other hand, an adaptable regime of sheep management, one that had to deal with imperial pressures (in wool and lamb collection), adapt to new administrative ventures in large-scale resource management, and track workers who roamed far and wide outside Uruk.

In short, I aim to use my paper to occasion a discussion about the mediation of human/animal relationships through large-scale Mesopotamian institutions.


Violence towards animals in Mesopotamia in the 3rd millennium BCE

Lau, Daniel

Due to the anthropocentric gaze, research on violence towards non-human animals has been – until most recently – largely neglected, especially in the archaeologies. Investigating the dimensions of violence in human-animal relationships allows conclusions to be drawn regarding the constitution of human society. Thus the exploration of the topic in the archaeologies may elucidate ancient socio-cultural conditions, especially the shaping of identities by social constructions of what is “human” and what is “animal”. Dehuminisation of the “other” largely depends on violence towards non-human animals and the socially constructed human-animal-border.

My paper focuses on violence towards non-human animals in the societies of Mesopotamia in the 3rd millennium BCE. Regarding iconography, I will try to show explicit forms of aggression and violence, such as fighting, hunting or sacrificing non-human animals. Though killing is the most aggressive act of violence, structural violence, such as capturing, breeding, and using working animals, is a more subtle and lasting form of violence, shaping and normalising the human-animal relationships.

Taking the perspective of Critical Animal Studies, I would like to sensitise the archaeologies for the concept of violence towards non-human animals, in order to raise awareness. Although ancient Mesopotamian societies are quite different to our so-called western civilisation, I argue that iconography played and plays a major role in normalising violence towards non-human animals.


An analysis and costly signaling of animal representations in the art and architecture and its Mesopotamian connections in Bronze Age Anatolia

Maner, Çiğdem

This paper will present a survey of abstract and realistic animal representations in art (such as seals, pottery, figurines, pins) and architecture from the Early Bronze Age until the Late Bronze Age in Anatolia (ca. 3100-1200 BCE). Questions such as what kind of animal representations in which context were used, if these animals are indigenous to Anatolia or if they have been brought from another region, if certain animal representations were an influence from Mesopotamia and lastly, using the costly signaling theory, trying to understand what the message of a certain animal representation could have been.


Far from idyll: Insights from the pastoral economy of Bronze Age Hazor

Marom, Nimrod, Shlomit Bechar, Assaf Yasur-Landau, Naama Yahalom Mack, and Gideon Hartman

In its 2nd millennium BCE heyday, Hazor was the greatest polity in the southern Levant, maintaining historically- and archaeologically-documented diplomatic and trade relations with kingdoms to its north. Wool and textile products are mentioned in cuneiform texts as exports from Hazor, and the intensity of their specialized production lends itself to integrative archaeozoological investigation that includes regional-scale analyses of taxonomic frequencies, demographic patterns, and stable isotope ratios. Based on such integrative regional zooarchaeological investigation of Hazor itself, Tel Kabri, and Tel Abel Bet-Maacah, we argue that Hazor has been a major exporter of wool and sheep during the Middle Bronze Age, but that this economic activity declined or even ceased during the Late Bronze Age. The possible contribution of this economic transformation to our understanding of the collapse of this polity at the end of the Late Bronze Age will be discussed. 


Taboos and triviality at Tel Bet Yerah: Donkeys and the Kura Araxes

Maurer, Gwendoline

Across the southern Levant donkeys are understood to have acted as important beasts of burden in the Early Bronze Age I – II and as riding animals in the Early Bronze Age III. The ritual and symbolic importance of donkeys in the ancient Near East has repeatedly been stressed. Donkey burials have been reported from the EB III in the southern Levant. i.e. at Tell es Sakan, in Gaza, Site H Nahal Habesor, Tel Lod (EB IB) and from Tel es-Safi/Gath.

These burials coincide with the Kura Araxes occupation at Tel Bet Yerah. The Kura-Araxes; an archaeological complex, in which Early Bronze Age migrants from the Caucasus expanded through southeastern Anatolia, the Iranian plateau and as far as the southern Levant during the 3rd millennium BC. Tel Bet Yerah presents the most southerly point of expansion. It 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 (2770 B.C.E – 2400 B.C.E).

This paper will compare the equid zooarchaeological and material culture evidence from the Kura Araxes occupation area; SA-M and a local compound; SA-S. The migrant squatter area, SA-M, yielded a comparably high proportion of donkey remains, whereas the local compound SA-S is entirely void of equid remains. To add to this discrepancy, SA-S, yielded numerous donkey figurines, whereas not a single donkey figurine has been recovered from any Kura Araxes contexts at Tel Bet Yerah or any other site associated with Kura Araxes communities. In fact, the Kura Araxes exclusively produce bovine (cattle) figurines.

Local communities at Tel Bet Yerah seem to produce high numbers of donkey figurines but abstain from keeping or disposing these animals close to their domestic compounds. While, the Kura Araxes, across the street, are trivially disposing of donkeys in their occupation area. If donkeys really did hold a special significance in the local Early Bronze Age Levantine mind, then the Kura Araxes behaviour in the plaza, stands in stark opposition.


Dog-men, bear-men, and the others: Men playing animals in Hittite festival texts

Mouton, Alice

In the cuneiform texts of Hittite Anatolia (second half of the second millennium BCE), dog-men, bear-men, wolf-men and other hybrids are mentioned in cultic contexts. Although the mentions of such characters are known from the Hittitologists, an in-depth analysis on them is still needed. The aim of this paper will consist in portraying them as precisely as possible: who are they, what do they do and why? With what other characters do they interact? In order to attempt an answer to these questions, a corpus of texts will be built and the extracts thus selected will be analyzed in context.


The dogs of the healing goddess Gula in the Mesopotamian tradition

Nett, Seraina

The Mesopotamian healing goddess Gula, whose cult is attested at least from the Ur III-period to the first millennium, is in her various incarnations closely connected to dogs in the written and archaeological evidence.

Iconographically, she is depicted with dogs reclining at her feet or symbolically represented as a dog. Inscribed and uninscribed dog figurines and burials of dogs have been discovered in and around her temple in Isin and there is ample evidence that her temple complex there (and possibly also elsewhere) housed a kennel of dogs.

Gula’s connection to dogs is also evident from the textual record. Her dogs are frequently mentioned alongside her in various types of texts, such as incantations and the interpretation of this close connection has been the subject of much debate, ranging from the healing power of dog licks to her association with rabies.

A ‘Dog House’ as part of her temple precinct in Isin is said to have been renovated by king Enlil-bani and the dogs of Gula are also attested in administrative documents, for example in a group of texts dating to the Ur III- period which lists – next to offerings of sheep to Gula herself – the provision of dead sheep and goats for her dogs.

The proposed paper will discuss the role of the dogs in the cult of Gula in a diachronic perspective, drawing upon both archaeological and textual evidence. Studying the interconnection between a deity, her associated animals and the experience of the worshipper will provide us with valuable insights into the interaction between humans and animals in the cultic sphere on the one hand and in the field of healing on the other.


Wild ostriches: Study of a valuable animal in Mesopotamia

Quillien, Louise, Olga V. Popova

“I don’t have an ostrich, send me a beautiful ostrich, as soon as possible!” wrote the king of Šuda to Zimri-Lim, king of Mari, who asked him what gift he wanted to receive from him. Ostriches are wild animals that live in uninhabited areas. The signs of their presence in Mesopotamia occur between the end of the 4th millennium and the 1st millennium BC and they come from archaeological remains, texts and iconography. What was the place of these animals in Mesopotamian daily lives and culture?

Ostriches were often present at royal courts, where they appeared as rare and prestigious animals, as amusement for the elite or diplomatic gifts. On Assyrian seals, fast and dangerous ostriches were depicted as royal hunting trophies, along with lions. Their eggs and feathers were particularly valuable for the manufacture of luxurious objects such as vessels, fans and garments. Comparing these different data, one will study the role of ostriches in Mesopotamian society.


Hunting and deer symbolism:  Human-red deer interaction in the Bronze Age in Anatolia

Saritaş, Özlem

The use of animals as a symbol of inequality and political power became more apparent in the Bonze Age (c. 3000-1200 BC) in Anatolia. The Bronze Age cultures in Anatolia mostly focused on powerful and dangerous animals with their symbolic depictions, including bulls, red deer, boar, leopards and lions. Especially bulls and red deer became increasingly significant religious and political symbols in the central Anatolian cultures and other culture in different regions in Anatolia. It is known that the deer was an important symbol to represent “god of the stag”. Furthermore, the deer representations in the elite burials indicate deer symbolism that associated with specific powerful deities and political position. In this research, we address skeletal completeness and biometric evidence for red deer exploitation with using the comparable data from all the Bronze Age sites in Anatolia. Our main goal is to define the human and deer interaction and as well as the nature of selective hunting from third to first millenium BC.


New tasks for an old tusk: Evaluating the discard and cultural context of a pig tusk from Ur

Seabrook, Melina

Pig remains are common finds in the ancient cities of Mesopotamia despite their minimal presence in texts and iconography. However, pig tusks are exceedingly rare in the archaeological record. Eight pieces of pig (Sus sp.) tusks were distributed across multiple excavation units at Ur coming from lsin-Larsa period (2000-1800 BC) domestic middens. Upon analysis, all pieces were found to come from a single tusk. I seek to illuminate the unique chronological and depositional history of this specimen and to suggest the possible purposes and uses of this and other tusks by the residents of Ur. To this end, I provide a brief overview of the small corpus of pig-related texts and iconography that exists. This helps provide cultural context for the Ur tusk. Most of the textual and iconographic references to pigs, both domestic and wild, appear in the earlier Uruk and Jemdet Nasr periods (3750-2900 BC) in southern Mesopotamia. However, by the Early Dynastic period (2900-2300 BC) references to pigs disappear. Thus, the presence of this tusk distributed across lsin-Larsa domestic midden is unusual and worth exploring.


Dogs and equids in war in third millennium BCE Mesopotamia

Tsouparopoulou, Christina, Laerke Recht

This paper will explore the interactions of dogs and equids and especially their use in battle during the 3rd millennium, looking at both the pertinent textual and visual evidence. The aim is to consolidate the postulation presented by Tsouparopoulou in 2012 that dogs were used in the military in Mesopotamia in the Ur III period. The available visual evidence corroborates this and pushes the date of their close interaction and their use in battle scenes already to the ED period. 


Animal agents in Sumerian literature 

Verderame, Lorenzo

Animals are poorly represented in Sumerian literature, apart from their presence in specific literary genres such as disputes and the so-called “fables”, where they play a role in a moral pedagogic context. 

An important exception to this is the rare but crucial intervention of animals in myths. In this paper I will analyse those episodes in which an animal solves a problem that seemed unsolvable, or helps the hero by playing what could be understood as the role of the deus ex machine of the Greek tragedy or that of the magical helper in fairy tales. Taking all this into consideration, I will discuss the role these animal actors play in four Sumerian myths, namely the bird Anzu in the Lugalbanda in the cave, the fox and the fly in Enki and Nihursaĝa and Inanna’s descent to the Netherworld, and the crow in Inanna and Šukaletuda.


Amazing animals: Some thoughts on exotic species in the ancient Near East

Vila, Emmanuelle

The presence of the elephant and the first signs of the appearance of chicken in south-west Asia are topics that have often been discussed. Chicken remains are documented in this area in 3rd Millennium BC archaeological contexts. Elephant remains appear a bit later, in archaeological contexts dated up to the 2nd millennium BC. No one questions the southeast Asian origin of the chicken, but the origin of the so called Syrian elephant is still debated. The cultural and technical development of the oriental state-levels societies during the 3rd and the beginning 2nd Millennium BC,  as  the Harrapian Civilisation in the Indus valley and the Mesopotamian Civilisation led to the emergence of an intensive trade centred on a variety of luxuries but also on raw materials. The appearance, particularly in Mesopotamia and Levant in the Bronze Age of exotic species originated from India, plants such as sesame and animals, such as domesticated fowl and zebu, are also a hint for relation between Mesopotamia and India-middle Asia though by what route remains unclear. The elephant presence during the middle-late Holocene in the Near East could be related to the same trade rather than to residual populations from the Pleistocene, as suggested by former researchers. The paper discusses the species identification as well as the expansion modes and population dynamics.


Canines from the “inside” and the “outside”: Of dogs, foxes and wolves in cuneiform sources from Mesopotamia

Vilela, Andréa

Humans have always had complex relationships with their environment and the situation in the ancient Near East is no different. A broad scope of sources (archaeological, iconographical and textual) can help us to better understand the interactions people from this region had with the world they lived in and animals in particular.

Though often using metaphors and symbolic images, literary texts are very useful for they provide us with a unique insight on how urban populations from Mesopotamia perceived their own interactions with their environment. We notice in those documents that a clear distinction is made between the city, seen as the realm of men and domestic animals, and the steppe, land of wild animals and chaotic forces. This dualistic vision implies that animals belong to either one or another of those two parallel worlds. Among them, canines are very special, for this group has both wild and domestic species. Moreover, their intelligence and predatory nature lead to complex and sometimes conflicting relations with humans, which are often represented in texts.

We shall focus on the representations of three canine species: dogs, foxes and wolves. As the first animal to be domesticated, the dog has a special relationship with humans. While its many flaws put this animal on an ambivalent position, we shall see it nevertheless clearly belongs to the world of men, the “inside”. As for the fox and the wolf, they are clearly associated with the wild world, the “outside”. We will show how those three animals not only integrate themselves in the mental division people from Mesopotamia had from their environment, but also how they even get to become symbolic representations of forces of the “inside” and the “outside” worlds.


The ambivalent relationship between the king and the lion in Mesopotamia: The king as a fierce lion and a lion hunter

Watanabe, Chikako E.

The association between the king and the lion is a common phenomenon observed widely in various cultures. Modern scholars often explain this association from the point of view of the lion being the ‘king’ of the animal kingdom, i.e., the apex predator in the natural predatory system. A study on lion metaphors and similes revealed that the Mesopotamian king was often described in terms of a lion in order to illustrate his specific features of kingship; however, there was no single example in which the lion was regarded as a king. The idea of the lion being the king of the beasts is, therefore, not the product of the ancient mind but of the modern one. In the context of the royal hunt, the king slays the lion with which he is closely associated, and the right to kill lions was reserved solely for the king. This paper, in which the author reviews the commonly held belief that the lion is the ‘king’ of the animal world, aims to elucidate what appears to be a contradictory relationship between the king and the lion. Close observation of literary expressions and artistic representations of the lion may reveal the original function intended. The paper also focuses on the types of lion depicted in Ashurbanipal’s lion hunt reliefs, in which at least two different types of animal are represented: one is half as big again as the other, and they consistently exhibit different patterns in the mane that flanks their cheeks. Zooarchaeological investigation is needed to establish which lion subspecies populated ancient Mesopotamia and the surrounding area.