Specialized Pastoralism and Social Stratification---Analysis of the Fauna from Chalcolithic Tel Tsaf, Israel

Date of Completion

January 2011


Anthropology, Archaeology




This research aims to identify the early emergence of social complexity during the Chalcolithic period in the southern Levant. This is a key transitional period between the egalitarian, village-based agricultural social systems of the Neolithic and the hierarchical, socially stratified urban social systems in the Early Bronze Age. Social change in the Levantine Chalcolithic was examined using a number of lines of zooarchaeological evidence for animal production and consumption at the site of Tel Tsaf, Israel. ^ Tel Tsaf is a middle Chalcolithic village located in the Jordan River Valley, dating from 6800 to 6500 BP. It is one of the most important Chalcolithic sites yet excavated in the Levant. The site contains provocative hints of social stratification. The presence of up to 19 grain storage silos suggests extraordinary quantities of surplus grain production, a key prerequisite for specialization and social differentiation. Imported pottery and beads attest to inter-regional trade systems, and the presence of clay seals to record economic transactions suggest administrative control of production. ^ The patterned production and consumption of animals at Tel Tsaf provides critical information about the social organization of a small village during this period. On the one hand there is little evidence for a shift towards the specialized production of non-meat animal products, such as wool and milk, which are a hallmark of market economies in more complex societies. However, cattle remains at the site provide some of the earliest evidence for plowing in the region. The use of cattle for plowing likely enabled the large-scale surplus production of agriculture. Surplus food production is a key requisite in the development of social differentiation, allowing a portion of the population to be freed from food production. Finally, the distribution of food remains found among households at the site suggests that not all households had access to the same variety of foods. There is a large variation in the species consumed and discarded among households, with strong spatial evidence for feasting in some, suggesting the development of social differentiation. ^