Hunting Patterns of the Early Upper and Middle Paleolithic

The Upper Paleolithic occupants of Üçağızlı I cave hunted a wide variety of large hoofed animals. Fallow deer (Dama mesopotamica), wild bezoar goat (Capra aegagrus), and roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) were particularly important in the diet, with lesser quantities of wild boar (Sus scrofa), red deer (Cervus elaphus), and aurochs (wild cattle Bos primigenius). The Middle Paleolithic faunas of Üçağızlı II cave contain the same array of hoofed animals but larger types were emphasized more. Large and small carnivore species, including leopard, bear, wolf, lynx and martin, were also hunted, particularly during the early Upper Paleolithic period.


The great variety of ungulate species in the Middle and early Upper Paleolithic assemblages indicates a heterogeneous terrestrial environment throughout the Late Pleistocene. The steep coastal ridges in the study area give way to a large and well-watered coastal plain roughly 1.5 km to the north of the cave sites. Üçağızlı I and Üçağızlı II are located on separate small promontories flanked by short, deeply incised drainages that today terminate in steep “box canyons.” It is likely that these topographic features were used by Paleolithic hunters to reduce the escape routes of large prey animals. The availability of natural traps at the interface of hillside and lowland pastures almost certainly explains the perennial attraction of the locality for Paleolithic groups.


Some of the temporal variation in ungulate species proportions certainly relates to climate-driven changes in ambient moisture and vegetation in the coastal mountains and nearby Orontes river delta. The opposing frequencies of wild bezoar goat and fallow deer, and between pig and shellfish are particularly noteworthy. The early Upper Paleolithic sequence of Üçağızlı I cave falls within Oxygen Isotope Stage (OIS) 3, the onset of which is marked by rapid minor temperature oscillations but trends toward cooler conditions overall. The Middle Paleolithic sequence of Üçağızlı II cave instead falls within OIS 4-5 and as yet is dated mainly by chronostratigraphy; the Middle Paleolithic series is underlain by a Interglacial beach deposit and is therefore Late Pleistocene in age.


The horizontal distance between site and sea was short in all culture periods, due the steep benthic topography near the sites. The vertical distance, however, would have varied significantly with changes in sea level. Assuming that edible shellfish were most likely to have been carried into the shelters when the marine littoral was closest, the presence of food shellfish in layers I and in D-B and above in Üçağızlı I cave suggests that these layers formed when sea was fairly high. The near lack of shellfish in layers E-H3 suggests that the shore was farther downhill and less convenient relative to this site. It is not surprising therefore that wild goats, which prefer open rocky terrain, increased in importance as shellfish and fallow deer decreased through the Üçağızlı I sequence. Retreat of the sea may have left the locality drier, as fresh water courses down-cut their channels.


Skinning and hide tanning were consistently imporatant activities during the early Upper Paleolithic as indicated by abundant scrapers throughout the sequence, as well as by cut marks on lower leg bones. Massive meat removal, possibly for smoke drying, is also indicated by the many long tool scrape marks on upper leg bones. Articulated skeletal elements are common throughout the early Upper Paleolithic layers, indicating limited post-depositional disturbance of the bone dumps. Evidence of through-bone sectioning of ungulate limbs is also widespread.


The influence of Late Pleistocene-Early Holocene climate change on the body size of adult wild bezoar goats, fallow deer, roe deer and red deer in archaeofaunas was investigated for the Middle East and Anatolia, including samples from Üçağızlı I cave (Açıkkol 2006). Significant body size reduction occurred in bezoar goats between the Initial Upper Paleolithic and Ahmarian in Üçağızlı I cave, and for Levantine and Anatolian cases more generally. This trend correlates with general climatic changes. No such trends are observed, however, for fallow deer, red deer, and roe deer in the Üçağızlı I series.


Other variation within the Üçağızlı I faunal record, and between it and the preceeding Middle Paleolithic record from Üçağızlı II cave, certainly reflects changes in human subsistence adaptations. Hunting biases toward smaller ungulates and even smaller animal prey emerge with time. There is a categorical increase in the use of small prey of all sorts with the onset of the early Upper Paleolithic, when small animals were hunted or collected in the vicinity of the site, including tortoises (Testudo graeca terrestris) and shellfish (turbans and limpets), hares (Lepus capensis), Persian squirrel (Sciurus anomalous), and birds such as chukar (Alectoris) and raptors (the latter probably used for raw materials). In the Middle Paleolithic, only slow-moving tortoises and shellfish were collected. The early Upper Paleolithic pattern of small game hunting contrasts to the pattern in Middle Paleolithic with respect to the diversity of small prey types that forage used to fill-in gaps in the availability of large game in the study area. The importance of small game amplified further in the Ahmarian and, especially, the Epipaleolithic, a pattern also seen elsewhere on the Mediterranean rim (Stiner 2001; Stiner et al. 2000).


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Hoofed Animals




Box Canyon




Oxygen Isotope Stage (OIS) 3





Cut Marks


Meat Removal


Articulated Bones


Through Bone Sectioning









Changes in Human Subsistence


Small Prey Animals