Exploitation of wild mammals in South-west Ethiopia during the Holocene

Located in the Wolayta, on the south-west edge of the Ethiopian highlands, the mountain site of Moche Borago has been periodically inhabited by hunters for much of the Holocene, especially the 4th – 3rd millennia BC, and the 1st millennia BC and AD. It has yielded numerous animal bones, providing evidence of the evolution of wild fauna and its human use during the last five millennia.

The present day biodiversity of Ethiopia is a poor reflection of its past situation. Climate dessication and human activites have pushed many species from their former habitats. However, palaeoclimatic data show that those changes were moderate and that all environments known during the middle Holocene still exist in the country. For example, the hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) living in the Afar rift during the middle Holocene, is no long there today, but is still to be found in the Ethiopian rift lakes.

In all phases at Moche Borago, faunal spectra were clearly dominated by bovids, especially the African buffalo (Syncerus caffer), which comprised between 35 and 80% of NISP. Other bovids include the Neotragini, Gazella sp., and Tragelaphini. Four of the five phases included remains of Suidae, whilst lagomorphs were represented in all phases by a single species – the Cape hare (Lepus capensis). The occasional presence of four species of primate, two species of hyraxes, and four carnivores, were also identified.

The faunal spectrum does not reflect the fauna currently found in a shelter half-way up a cliff; species that could have reached such a shelter include porcupine, hyena, hyrax and, possibly, suids and monkeys. However, it is impossible that the dominant bovids, especially the big African buffaloes, could have come to die in such huge numbers in the shelter. Moreover, there are no carnivore gnawing marks and the bone extremities are not chewed. These observations would tend to exclude all carnivores except humans. In addition, those species which could have died a natural death in the shelter had been disarticulated and broken before their incorporation within the archaeological layer. It is, therefore, concluded that all the bones at Moche Borago were accumulated by people, with the exception of a few small mammal bones of ambiguous origin.

The representation of skeletal parts of the African buffaloes indicates that, for most individuals, all body parts were brought to the shelter. Such animals would have preferentially lived in the plain below the site rather than in the mountains above the site, and the abrupt surrounding slopes do not allow the transportation of an entire buffalo, dead or alive (more than 600 kg for an adult), up to the rock shelter. Carcasses must, therefore, have been cut into joints prior to transport.

The consumption of animals is attested by the presence, albeit rare, of cut marks, and by spiral fractures, presumably the result of bones being broken open for marrow extraction rather than from carnivores. However, there is no evidence of roasting in the form of burn marks because most bones had been completely burnt after their deposition by the hot volcanic products deposited over the archaeological layers.

Reference: Lesur, J., Vigne, J-D., and Gutherz, X. 2007. Exploitation of wild mammals in South-west Ethiopia during the Holocene (4000 BC – 500 AD): the finds from Moche Borago shelter (Wolayta). Environmental Archaeology 12 (2): 139-159

One response to “Exploitation of wild mammals in South-west Ethiopia during the Holocene

  1. Pingback: Dear Kitty. Some blog :: Wildlife migration in Sudan, as big as Serengeti :: June :: 2007

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