Cave paleozoology in the Judean Desert: assembling records of Holocene wild mammal communities

Ignacio A. Lazagabaster*, Natalia Égüez, Micka Ullman, Roi Porat, Ido Wachtel, Uri Davidovich, Nimrod Marom

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Long temporal records of Holocene wild mammal communities are essential to examine the role of human impacts and climatic fluctuations in the configuration of modern ecosystems. We show that such records can be assembled through extensive radiocarbon dating of faunal remains obtained from biogenic cave deposits. We dated 110 mammalian remains from 19 different cave sites in the Judean Desert. We use the dates in combination with archaeological survey data and bone collagen/apatite δ13C values to study faunal succession in the context of Holocene climate change and human settlement history in the region. Our results suggest a change in the late Holocene, expressed in fewer observations of Arabian leopard (Panthera pardus nimr) and gazelle (Gazella spp.), and an increase of Syrian striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena syriaca), fox (Vulpes spp.), Nubian ibex (Capra nubiana) and rock hyrax (Procavia capensis); suids (Sus scrofa) appear for the first time. According to the data distribution, however, the probability of finding a bone diminishes exponentially with time, which implies that the Judean Desert cave paleozoological record is temporally biased. The weight of evidence ultimately favors an explanation of the observed patterns as the consequence of a combined anthropogenic and climatic impact on local food webs.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)651-663
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Quaternary Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Ardern Hulme‐Beaman and an anonymous reviewer for suggestions and help with statistical analyses. I.A.L. acknowledges a Postdoctoral Fellowship from the Israeli Council for Higher Education and a Humboldt Foundation Postdoctoral grant. We thank Dudi Greenbaum, Jamil al Atrash and Muhammad Ali Ibrahim Bdur from the National Parks Authority for their assistance in our fieldwork; Avi Mashiach for his help with the geospatial and archaeological data; and the volunteers who helped us in excavation and survey. We thank Alex Cherkinsky, from the Center of Applied Isotope Studies in Georgia, and Tom Higham, Peter Ditchfield and Thibaut Deviese, from the Oxford Radiocarbon Unit, for their help with radiocarbon analyses. We thank Aya Marck for the illustration work. Special thanks to Liora Horwitz, Guy Bar‐Oz, Reuven Yeshurun and Shai Meiri. This research was funded by an ERC‐stg grant (No. 802752 to N.M.) for the DEADSEA_ECO Project ( ). Open Access funding enabled and organized by Projekt DEAL.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors Journal of Quaternary Science Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • Anthropocene
  • Dead Sea
  • Levant
  • carbon stable isotopes
  • radiocarbon


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