Cattle Cults of the Arabian Neolithic and Early Territorial Societies



ABSTRACT  At the cusp of food production, Near Eastern societies adopted new territorial practices, including archaeologically visible sedentism and nonsedentary social defenses more challenging to identify archaeologically. New archaeological and paleoenvironmental evidence for Arabia's earliest-known sacrifices points to territorial maintenance in arid highland southern Yemen. Here sedentism was not an option prior to agriculture. Seasonally mobile pastoralists developed alternate practices to reify cohesive identities, maintain alliances, and defend territories. Archaeological and paleoenvironmental evidence implies cattle sacrifices were commemorated with a ring of more than 42 cattle skulls and a stone platform buried by 6,400-year-old floodplain sediments. Associated with numerous hearths, these cattle rites suggest feasting by a large gathering, with important sociopolitical ramifications for territories. A GIS analysis of the early Holocene landscape indicates constrained pasturage supporting small resident human populations. Cattle sacrifice in southern Arabia suggests a model of mid-Holocene Neolithic territorial pastoralism under environmental and cultural conditions that made sedentism unsustainable. [prehistory, Arabia, sacrifice, territoriality, Neolithic]

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