Τhe Late Neolithic Macro-Mammal Assemblage

Τhe Late Neolithic Macro-Mammal Assemblage

A significant portion of the prehistoric material culture record excavated at Drakaina Cave belongs to the skeletal remains of terrestrial animals. In fact, the relative paucity of marine resources, especially the virtual lack of fish remains, in spite of the site’s proximity to the littoral, renders the macro-mammal fauna a key assemblage in the attempt to envisage the role and status this location beheld in the wider island- and sea-scape of the region.

So far, the systematic study of the material in question has focused on the Late Neolithic section of the chronostratigraphic sequence and some 8,000 cranial and post cranial specimens have been analysed. Owing to the high fragmentation rate only one in ten specimens is identifiable to species. The grand majority of this fraction of the material belongs to domestic animals in descending order as follows: sheep/goats (the former outnumbering the latter), pig, cattle and dog. The wild component, although much less numerous, is comprised of deer (mainly red), wild swine and at least one member of the carnivore guild (fox).

Various macro-mammal remains

A most informative strand of evidence has been revealed by the body part relative abundance of the main domesticates. Sheep/goats and pigs were, as a rule, introduced to the site as food parcels, i.e. the meatiest parts of the anatomy are well represented while elements of low utility, like the head and the extremities, are depleted. If slaughter and initial butchery was not performed in parts of the shelter, e.g. towards the talus, that have not been excavated, this pattern suggests that preparation of meals and consumption, in the context perhaps of some social gatherings/events, was an important aspect of life at Drakaina. This also testifies to the inexorable link of the cave with other habitation/production site(s) on the island. A few sheep/goat and pig specimens belonging to foetus/newborn individuals, however, provide a hint that the use of the shelter involved also, at times, some productive processes, e.g. penning of animals around parturition. This feature also points to the use of the location at least over winter/spring.

Terrestrial fauna remains with cutmarks

The wild fauna clearly reveals that hunting parties (or members of) were using the cavern. We can fairly safely hypothesize that the hunters were taking advantage of its strategic position, possibly over the cold part of the annual cycle, to interact in various ways (economic and/or other) with the lush vegetation regimes surrounding the Vohinas gorge in the past. Dietary returns set aside the evidence of hunting big game at an island setting underscores the significance of hunting as a social institution of agropastoralist (small scale mixed farmer) societies for constructing and binding and with their islandscapes.

June 2009
Dr. Eleni Kotjabopoulou
Archaeological Institute For Epirotic Studies
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