The DEADSEA_ECO Project: investigating human-carnivoran interactions through the study of cave bone assemblages in the Judean Desert
Long temporal records of wild faunal communities are essential to understanding historical human-carnivoran interactions. Here, I report the results of extensive surveys in the Judean Desert as part of the goals of the DEADSEA_ECO project, which include over 140 dated mammalian remains from 19 different cave sites. The paleozoological, archaeological, and paleoenvironmental records of the Judean Desert are integrated to reveal historical changes in the large carnivore community. The results show a late Holocene (~ 3400 years ago) faunal reassembly characterized by the diminishment of the dominant large carnivoran, the Arabian leopard (Panthera pardus nimr), and the spread of the Syrian striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena syriaca). Changes in the carnivoran community were not temporally correlated with changes in the abundance of prey (e.g., ibex, gazelle, hyrax). Thus, it is likely that increased hunting pressure in combination with regional aridification were responsible for the decrease in the number of leopards, while the introduction of domestic animals and settlement refuse could have brought new scavenging opportunities for hyenas. While the Late Pleistocene was clearly marked by glacial-interglacial phases, the weight of evidence ultimately favors an explanation of the observed patterns during the Holocene as the consequence of a combined anthropogenic and climatic impact on local food webs.