Graduate Program in Balkan and Eastern Mediterranean Archaeology

ARHM003. Social Zooarchaeology of Southeastern Europe, Eastern Mediterranean and Anatolia. John Gorczyk

Online course, 30 hours, 3 credits


Animals have been fundamental to nearly all human endeavors. Agriculture, the secondary products revolution, urbanism, and state formation would have all been impossible without animals. Animals are important as more than just sources of food, but their role in human social worlds is often overlooked. Zooarchaeologists are the researchers responsible for analyzing the material remains of animals on archaeological sites, and for investigating human-animal relationships in the past. In this course, we will look at some of the major issues in European prehistory from an animal perspective. Starting with Paleolithic cave painters and big game hunters, we will move to the beginnings of animal domestication and the spread of animal husbandry throughout Europe. We will consider animals’ roles in the establishment of Europe’s first towns and cities, and the development of the earliest states. We will investigate their many places in religion, medicine, and entertainment in the ancient world (Greece and Rome). Finally, we will jump forward several centuries to examine the role that Old World domesticates played in the European colonial project. Finally, we will discuss the participation of zooarchaeology in modern debates about environmental sustainability, the ethics of eating, rewilding, and more.


Keywords: animals, prehistory, social zooarchaeology, domestication, colonialism, environment.









Paleolithic hunting: we will explore the importance of Pleistocene animal communities to Paleolithic peoples (H. sapiens neandertalensis and H. sapiens sapiens), both as a subsistence base for an economy of mobile hunting as well as important symbolic resources.

  1. Symbolism, cave art, shamanism, totemism




Broad spectrum revolution-post-Glacial communities had to contend with a radically different landscape, one where previously available animal resources were no longer reliable or had gone extinct. They interacted with a much broader range of animals, interacting with and exploiting them seasonally.

Mesolithic hunters, gatherers and fishers



Domestication and the origins of agriculture and stock breeding: The domestication of plants and animals and the ensuing transformation in human society (The Neolithic Revolution) had major consequences for both humans and animals. We will explore:

  1. What is domestication, and how do we recognize it in the faunal record?
  2. Why/how were animals domesticated?
  3. How does domestication fundamentally transform human-animal relations?
  4. What is the role of domesticated animals in mediating relationships between hunters and gatherers and early farmers
  5. What were the repercussions and unintended consequences of bringing domestic animals closer to humans?
    1. Zoonoses, extinctions, coevolutionary changes




Animals and the transformation of Europe- first cities, first states. The concentration of people, plants, and animals in tighter and less mobile spaces led to the rise of the first systems to take advantage of agricultural surplus to form large political entities that we call states. How were animals a necessary precondition for the rise of social inequality and state formation?

  1. SPR, expansion of agricultural production, rose of inequality
  2. New domestications: the horse

What is the role of hunting in building the state, enacting elite power, etc.?



Animals in the classical world: Animal lives are often invisible in accounts of the ancient Greek and Roman world, although they were everywhere and integral to thereligious, economic, medicinal, and entertainment aspects of Classical life.

Sacrifice, slaves, and warriors: animals in religion, work, and the ancient arena.



Animals in the new world: how did Old world domesticates transform the New World? Apart from the llama, and alpaca in the Andes and the turkey in parts of North and Mesoamerica, domesticated animals were not present in much of the New World. Their arrival with the coming of Europeans beginning in the 15th century AD had a profound impact on indigenous communities.

  1. Role of domestic animals in spreading disease and habitat destruction across the New World
  2. How were they caught up in the colonizing project?




Social zooarchaeology today: what role should zooarchaeologists play in contemporary debates? E.g.:

  1. Environmental sustainability
  2. Rewilding
  3. Ethics of eating









Essential readings:


Childe, V. Gordon 1956. Man Makes Himself. London: Watts & Co. “The Neolithic Revolution”


Gilhus, Ingvild Sælid 2006. Animals, Gods and Humans : Changing Attitudes to Animals in Greek, Roman and Early Christian Ideas. London; New York: Routledge. Chapter 1.


Halstead, Paul 2014. Two Oxen Ahead: Pre-Mechanized Farming in the Mediterranean. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley Blackwell. Selected chapters.


Marciniak, Arkadiusz 2005. Placing Animals in the Neolithic Social Zooarchaeology of Prehistoric Farming Communities. Left Coast Pr. Selected chapters.


Mithen, Steven J. 1988. To Hunt or to Paint: Animals and Art in the Upper Palaeolithic. Man 23(4): 671–695.


Russell, Nerissa 2012. Social Zooarchaeology: Humans and Animals in Prehistory. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press. Selected chapters.


Scott, James C. 2017. Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States. 1 edition. New Haven: Yale University Press.  Chapter 1, 2 and 4.


Sherratt, Andrew 1997. Economy and Society in Prehistoric Europe: Changing Perspectives. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.


Sykes, Naomi Jane 2014. Beastly Questions: Animal Answers to Archaeological Issues. London: Bloomsbury Academic. Chapter 1.