The study of animal remains from archaeological sites is known as zooarchaeology, archaeozoology, and faunal analysis as well as paleozoology. As a field it has developed an intellectual territory between and overlapping with several sets of older disciplines. In one dimension it occupies the temporal gap between paleontology, a subject concerned primarily with pre-Holocene phenomena, and neontology, which deals with modern living populations. In another, it overlaps zoology's primary concern with wild animals and veterinary/animal science's preoccupation with domestic species. In a third, archaeological, arena, it has arisen to deal with the collection, identification, and interpretation of the ubiquitous fragments of bone and shell that occur at most sites. Over the century of its existence, paleozoology has developed two overlapping emphases, one primarily concerned with animals and the impact human activity has had on them, the other primarily concerned with human cultures and the way animals affected and were exploited by them.

The zoological side of the discipline emphasizes the development of techniques for identifying remains and describing changes in animal morphology over time. As examples of identification, fragmentary sheep bones are hard to tell from those of goats, and equid remains are notoriously difficult to refer to the various species that inhabited the greater Near East: horses, donkeys, onagers, and their various crosses. However, extensive osteometric analyses in recent years have produced criteria for making some of the separations. Estimating the age at death from teeth and bones has been another achievement. Various methods, including the examination of dental wear and cross-sections of teeth and the study of the schedule of bone maturation, have been developed to assess mortality patterns in many of the more commonly recovered Near Eastern fauna. In the case of domestication, the process of taming and husbanding produces physical changes in animals, some of which are reflected in the skeleton. The horns of goats change from a wild morphology characterized by a quadrilateral cross-section to a domestic morphology of tear-drop shape. Pig and dog skulls are foreshortened and teeth reduced in length by the same process. Many animals also undergo an overall reduction in size and develop greater variability in appearance. An important component of the husbandry of several species is castration. Osteometric analysis of large samples has the potential to demonstrate the use of the technique. Paleozoologists additionally record incidences of disease and pathology. The use of cattle for plowing produces distinctive bony growths on the feet, a feature that appears as early as the Bronze Age in the Near East.

Paleozoology is also charged with contributing to the reconstruction of past environments and the estimation of the seasonality of human occupation. Some species of bird, rodent, and mollusc are diagnostic of past conditions. In the case of snails, the chemical makeup of the shell is also an indicator. In other archaeological problems, it is the relative abundance of different taxa that is the clue.

The development of quantitative measures has been a preoccupation of the field. A number of statistics have been developed (minimum number of individuals, relative frequency, total number of fragments, bone weight), but because each method has significant biases, none has proved a panacea in estimating abundance. Concern with quantification has stimulated concern with taphonomy, the study of processes that affect remains between deposition and recovery. As organic material, bone fragments are subject to attritional processes that tend not to affect lithics and ceramics. Because of these taphonomic biases, the number of bones fragments found and referred to a species is not equivalent to the abundance of that species in the past. Furthermore, because bones in and of themselves are rarely datable directly either by species or morphology (the use of radiocarbon and other physiochemical techniques is prohibitively expensive and is thus restricted to special finds), they must be dated by association with other artifacts, usually pottery. Paleozoologists have found it necessary to distinguish sharply between the stratigraphic date of an archaeological deposit and the date based on its content. Quantitative descriptions of paleozoological data are therefore presented as relative trends through time and space rather than absolute quantities for a given period.

The cultural side of paleozoology targets the reconstruction of past socioeconomic systems. Information about the spatial patterning of bone remains, the relative abundance of different species, and the age of a species at death is evaluated with ethnographic and ethnohistorical data. These models have been applied at regional, site, and household levels. Study of modern pastoralists has shown that their management decisions are shaped by the degree of interaction they have with markets. Application of these principles to archaeological settings reveals how a community's interaction with its network of surrounding communities was constructed. For instance, at Iron Age Tel Dan in the Galilee in Israel, as the village grew to a city, predictable shifts occurred in the abundance of sheep and goats relative to cattle and in the manner of processing carcasses. At Early Iron Age Ai/Raddanah, in the central hill country of Cisjordan, the relative proportions and age at the slaughter of sheep and goats points to a much greater degree of market involvement than has been posited for a small village from this period. Larger forces are also visible. The paleozoological record at Tell Jemmeh in Israel's northern Negev desert and at Tel Miqne (Ekron in ancient Philistia) shows how Assyrian imperial demands for tribute and military provisions severely dislocated local pastoral production systems in the Late Iron Age.

Intrasite spatial variability of animal remains is also informative. Access to different resources is predicated on socio-economic status and organization of the redistributive system. With respect to animals, this often means that different species and even different parts of the same carcass are distributed to households and sectors of the community based on wealth, prestige, ritual status, or the degree of involvement in pastoral production. Evidence from Tell el-Amarna in Egypt shows that pork was the mainstay of the diet of laborers during the New Kingdom period, while other elements of the society ate cattle, sheep, and a few goats. Faunal remains from Elephantine in the Nile valley, Tell el-Ḥayyat in the Jordan Valley, and al-Hiba in southern Mesopotamia show that although pigs were eaten, remains of the animal are not found in temple complexes at those sites, whereas bones of other domesticates are.

Spatial variability is visible within the household as well. The process of converting animal products to meals is called cuisine. Different stages in food preparation generate distinctive carcass debris. Ethnographically based models of the culinary process have, for example, been used to explain the variability in bone remains found in the various rooms of Byzantine houses at Qaṣrin in the Golan Heights.

[See also Animal Husbandry; Camels; Cattle and Oxen; Equids; Ethnoarchaeology; Ethnobotany; Paleobotany; Pigs; and Sheep and Goats. In addition, with the exception of al-Hiba, all of the sites mentioned are the subject of independent entries.]


  • Baker, John, and Don Brothwell. Animal Diseases in Archaeology. New York, 1980. Best single source on animal paleopathology.
  • Chaplin, Raymond E. The Study of Animal Bones from Archaeological Sites. New York, 1971. Important early discussion of the modern field.
  • Cornwall, Ian. Bones for the Archaeologist. London, 1964. Classic introduction in English to the field from a zoological perspective.
  • Davis, Simon J. M. The Archaeology of Animals. New Haven, 1987. Global review of paleozoology.
  • Grayson, Donald K. Quantitative Zooarchaeology: Topics in the Analysis of Archaeological Faunas. Orlando, Fla., 1984. Thorough examination of the problems associated with different quantitative methods.
  • Hesse, Brian, and Paula Wapnish. Animal Bone Archaeology: From Objectives to Analysis. Washington, D.C., 1985. Introduction to the methods of paleozoology focused on the archaeology of the late prehistoric and historic periods of the Near East.
  • Hillson, Simon. Teeth. Cambridge, 1986. Guide to the identification of teeth and estimation of age from dental evidence.
  • Lyman, R. Lee. Vertebrate Taphonomy. Cambridge, 1984. Exhaustive review of the effects of burial and exposure processes on animal remains.
  • Wapnish, Paula, and Brian Hesse. “Faunal Remains from Tel Dan: Perspectives on Animal Production at a Village, Urban, and Rural Center.” ArchaeoZoologia 4.2 (1991): 9–86. Extensive treatment of the methodology of reconstructing socioeconomic systems from paleozoological data.

Brian Hesse and Paula Wapnish