Leopard traps and human-leopard interactions in the Judean Desert
The study of ancient human-carnivoran interactions is often hindered by the small number of carnivoran remains in the paleozoological record obtained from archaeological sites. Within the framework of the DEADSEA-ECO project, we conducted a comprehensive investigation of carnivoran (leopard) traps in the Judean Desert, including physical surveys, locational modelling and OSL dating of all known traps in this region. Our results show a punctuated rise in the construction of traps around En Gedi, the main oasis along the western Dead Sea shore, since the Middle Holocene, which generally accord with the late Holocene diminishment of leopards (as studied from biogenic cave assemblages) and with intensification of human activity in the region. However, most traps were built during the last millennium, a period in which no permanent settlement existed in the Judean Desert, and are probably associated with the activity of pastoralists. This accords well with the ethnographic record regarding the construction and use of leopard traps in other regions (e.g., the Sinai Peninsula), and attests to the severe effect of pastoralism on top predators in fragile environments.