Implications of modern Barn owls pellets analysis for archaeological studies in the Middle East

Publication date: November 2019

Source: Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 111

Author(s): Iván Rey-Rodríguez, Emmanuelle Stoetzel, Juan Manuel López-García, Christiane Denys


Situated at the crossroad between Africa, Asia and Europe, the Middle East is an important region for the knowledge of human and mammal migrations. Among mammals, fossil small mammals are good proxies for palaeoenvironmental reconstructions, and can also play the role of markers of prehistoric movements. In the aim to better characterize the origins and the palaeoecological signal delivered by the small vertebrate assemblages in Middle East archaeological sites, we performed a taxonomic and taphonomic study of the small mammal remains found in pellets from Barn owl (Tyto alba) from a poorly known region of South of Turkey at the Syrian border, east of Euphrates River. This will constitute the first available taphonomic referential for this region.

The studied sample constituted by more than 40 disintegrated pellets provided 2503 rodent skeletal elements. The most common preys are Meriones tristami, followed by Mus musculus. The taphonomic study showed that our assemblage fits well with a predator category of light modification. Regarding the preservation, our mean bone relative abundance reached 82% and the bone fragmentation showed that more than 77% of our sample is intact. The digested elements represented 22% and the low to moderate grades were dominant (83.5%). Implications for environmental and climatic reconstructions based on small mammal communities were also explored using Bioclimatic Model and Habitat Weighting methods.