Bioarchaeology of the Near East, 6:21-52 (2012)

Being an "ass": An Early Bronze Age burial of a donkey from Tell es-Safi/Gath, Israel

Haskel J. Greenfield* (1), Itzhaq Shai (2), Aren Maeir (3)

(1) University of Manitoba, Department of Anthropology,
St. Paulís College, Winnipeg, MB R3T 2N2, Canada
email: (corresponding author)
(2) Ariel University Center of Samaria, Israel
(3) Bar-Ilan University, Institute of Archaeology,
Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology,
Ramat Gan 52900, Israel

Abstract: Burials of domestic asses appear in the Early Bronze Age (EBA) of the Near East, yet there is little understanding of the nature and importance of such burials. Usually, they are treated relatively simplistically as the remains of adored pets (if carefully interred) or sick animals who have lost their usefulness (e.g. as beasts of burden). Also, the relationship between the burials and the surrounding deposits and structures is rarely clear (e.g. were they buried in an abandoned area of sites or purposely buried beneath floors). In this paper, we discuss the excavation and analytical results of the burial of an ass found under the floor of an EB III house at the site of Tell es-Safi/Gath, Israel. By integrating the results of zooarchaeological, architectural, stratigraphic, and typochronological analyses to this bioarchaeological deposit, it is clear that the ass was deliberately bound, slaughtered and buried as a foundation deposit under the EB III house. The importance of this taxon to the religious and economic realms of the EBA of the Near East is discussed. If this approach is applied to the other ass burials dispersed across the region, their significance is clarified.

Key words: ritual; sacrifice; Early Bronze Age; zooarchaeology; Equus asinus

Received 25 October 2012; accepted 7 January 2013; published online 30 January 2013.

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