Joe Roe

Modelling prehistoric hunting strategies in Jordan

My research takes a spatial and computational approach to modelling hunting strategies in the Epipalaeolithic and Neolithic of the eastern Jordanian steppe (21,000–6,000 BCE). Often characterised as a ‘marginal’ zone in the wider context of Near Eastern prehistory, recent research has found that, on the contrary, this region was closely linked with neighbouring, less arid areas of the Southern Levant and the major social developments that took place there in this period. Epipalaeolithic ‘mega-sites’ such as Khareneh IV and Wadi Jilat 6 attest to the significance of locales within the region as frequently revisited hunting grounds, while investment in fixed architecture and extensive regional interaction from the early Epipalaeolithic parallels well known developments in the fertile zone. In the Neolithic the region was again a centre of intensive gazelle hunting, but also became home to early pastoralist societies with the introduction of domestic sheep and goat. This picture has emerged from thirty years of intensive archaeological investigations at over forty sites in the region, producing a wealth of settlement and faunal data.

Although one of the most significant and long-lived hunting zones in the Near East, previous characterisations of hunting strategies in the eastern Jordanian steppe have been simplistic. On the basis of modern gazelle ethology and historic gazelle hunting, it has been proposed that sites were placed to intercept seasonal migrations of gazelle herds and affect mass killings. However, animal behaviour is an adaptive response to environmental conditions and the ecological constraints that shape gazelle herd movements today cannot be assumed to hold in prehistory. The Prehistoric hunting strategies in Jordan: reconstructing prey behaviour and ecology research project aims to create a more accurate reconstruction of prehistoric animal movements, and by extension human hunting practices, with a combined program of zooarchaeological investigation and behavioural ecological approaches. As part of this wider project, my doctoral research will use spatial and computational methods to investigate two related research topics: niche modelling of prey behavioural ecology, and agent-based modelling of human hunting strategies.

GIS-based niche modelling will be used to investigate the effect of changing ecological conditions—seasonally and as a result of climate change between the Epipalaeolithic and Neolithic periods—on animal movement and population density in the eastern Jordanian steppe. This involves two stages. First, geographic data for the study region will be collected in a GIS and used to extrapolate ecological maps of the periods of interest. Second, results from the wider research project will be used to create a predictive, spatially explicit model of animal behaviour to be applied to the ecological data.

Agent-based modelling (ABM) will be used to investigate human-animal/hunter-prey dynamics. In the first instance, simple ABMs will be developed to explore, in the abstract, the strategies adopted agents tasked with the acquisition of mobile resources. These will be used as theory-building tools for the second stage, creating a spatially explicit ABM to investigate the effect of changing patterns of animal movement (in response to ecological change, as predicted by niche modelling). These will be tested against evidence for human hunting practices in the settlement and zooarchaeological data investigated by the wider project.

This research represents a novel approach to exploring human-animal interaction in prehistory. As part of the wider Prehistoric hunting strategies in Jordan research project, it will contribute to our understanding of the dynamics and social implications of hunting in a central area of world prehistory – the South Levantine Epipalaeolithic and Neolithic. In addition, my research will develop new methodologies and abstract models that could be developed further and applied to different archaeological contexts.

Funding organisation

  • Leverhulme Trust


 Educational background

  • BA Anthropology and Archaeology, University of Durham, 2011
  • MA Archaeology,MA Archaeology, UCL Institute of Archaeology, 2013

Roe, J., Hale, D., Videiko, M., Gaydarska, B., Burdo, N. and Chapman, J. (forthcoming). Spatial analysis of intra-site surface collection data from the Tripolye mega-site of Nebelivka. To appear in Trypillian Civilization Journal [].

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