Getting to Know the Neighbors: Commensal Insights into Human-Ecosystem Dynamics

Author(s): Jillian Swift

Year: 2018


Advances in zooarchaeological method and theory, increased attention to the recovery and analysis of microfaunal remains, and multidisciplinary collaborative research have generated increasingly nuanced understandings of past human-animal relationships. This paper provides a brief introduction to archaeological investigations of commensal fauna, highlighting the myriad ways that research focused on the commensal niche sheds new light on past societies and ecosystems. A case study from Makangale Cave (Pango la kijiji Makangale), Pemba Island, Zanzibar illustrates the utility of small commensal fauna for understanding processes of human niche construction and paleoecological transformations. Stable carbon and nitrogen isotope data derived from the human-transported, omnivorous black rat (Rattus rattus) and house mouse (Mus musculus) reflect changes in nutrient flows throughout anthropogenic food webs, as well as resource partitioning between two species occupying the human niche. Explicit focus on these often-ignored commensal taxa provides new tools for investigating human-environment dynamics in the past.

Cite this Record

Getting to Know the Neighbors: Commensal Insights into Human-Ecosystem Dynamics. Jillian Swift. Presented at The 82nd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Washington, DC. 2018 ( tDAR id: 443790)

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Spatial Coverage

min long: 24.082; min lat: -26.746 ; max long: 56.777; max lat: 17.309 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 22188