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You are here: Home / Library / RBINS Staff Publications / Exploitation of desert and other wild game in ancient Egypt: the archaeozoological evidence from the Nile Valley

V. Linseele and W. Van Neer (2010)

Exploitation of desert and other wild game in ancient Egypt: the archaeozoological evidence from the Nile Valley

In: Desert Animals in the Eastern Sahara: Their Position, Significance and Cultural Reflection in Antiquity, ed. by Riemer H., Förster F., Herb M., Pöllath N. . Heinrich Barth Institute, Köln, chap. x, pp. 47-78.

Bone evidence for wild game found at Late Palaeolithic to New Kingdom sites in the Egyptian Nile Valley is summarised. The compiled data indicate that hartebeest, aurochs and gazelle were the main species hunted during the Late Palaeolithic and Epipalaeolithic. Populations of hartebeest and aurochs were essentially limited to the Nile Valley proper, whereas gazelles could be found in semi-desert and desert environments as well. The population densities of hartebeest and aurochs were probably never very high because of the narrow floodplain, especially in Upper Egypt, and the seasonal effect of the inundations of the Nile. From the Neolithic onwards, domestic livestock took over the role of game as the most important meat provider. Nevertheless, hunting continued to be practiced, and bones of wild game seem to be more important in contexts associated with elite sections of society and/or with ritual activities. Populations of hartebeest and aurochs declined after the Palaeolithic, no doubt because of competition with humans and their flocks. During the Predynastic period, the decline is most clear in Upper Egypt, where from then onwards, the emphasis shifts to gazelles. The Predynastic elite cemetery at Hierakonpolis (locality HK6) yielded the oldest osteological evidence of keeping wild animals in confinement. During the Old to New Kingdom periods, game animals continue to be found in small quantities and from then on, the populations of aurochs and hartebeest may also have started to decline in Lower Egypt. The animals found in the archaeozoological record of the Dynastic period differ from those in the iconographic sources, both quantitatively and qualitatively, except for the gazelles which occur frequently both in the faunal remains and on depictions. The discrepancies can partly be due to the fact that very few ritual, archaeological contexts with fauna are available. The most striking observation from this survey is that true desert animals, such as addax, oryx and ibex, are extremely rare in the archaeozoological record of all periods of the Nile Valley and that the sparse bone finds hence contradict the abundant occurrence and exploitation of these animals suggested by Dynastic iconographical data.
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