BASOR Article Preview: Food, Economy, and Culture at Tel Dor, Israel

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By: Lidar Sapir-Hen, Institute of Archaeology, Tel Aviv University

Our paper, “Food, Economy, and Culture at Tel Dor, Israel: A Diachronic Study of Faunal Remains from 15 Centuries of Occupation,” presents a study of the animal remains from Tel Dor, a port town on Israel’s Carmel’s coast. During the time-span of the early Iron Age to the Late Roman period, the world around Dor underwent fundamental changes. Dor itself saw major transformations in its urban composition, the function of the settlement, political affiliation, foreign domination, international relationships and, in certain periods, possibly also in the composition of its inhabitants. Our study focused on the cultural implications of the economic changes taking place in that long period of time. This continuous occupation at Tel Dor and the wealth of its animal remains, coupled with modern systematic excavation and collection methods, makes Dor one of the best- studied tells in the Levant and hence an ideal locus for this type of study.

We focused on meat choice and food systems patterns, as they may serve as a cultural indicator and may shed light on social aspects; Apart from the immediate caloric value, the choice of what to eat, and the way in which animals are exploited, may have symbolic and political-economic meanings. We asked whether changes in meat choice and food systems through time in a single site can be explained in economic or cultural terms; whether they can be correlated with changes in the site’s material culture; whether they reflect some change in the site’s population or should they be explained in terms of the adoption of new cultural norms.

The most striking finding of our study is that during a millennium and a half of Dor’s inhabitation, there is very little change in most patterns of animal exploitation and consumption, despite the major changes in the site’s urban matrix over this long time span and the economic and political regimes within which it operated. The people at Tel Dor raised their own food throughout the periods we investigated, and did so in a similar manner; the only apparent change is the increase in pig remains beginning at the end of the Persian period and reaching its peak in the Roman period.

How can this change be explained? Similar to the results of animal remains analysis, other evidence from Dor such as small finds, vessels and architecture demonstrate gradual change in some traditions, alongside marked continuity in others. We see this as part of the “Hellenization” process that Tel Dor —and Phoenicia in general— begin to undergo by the late Persian period. The Phoenician inhabitants of the coast had always maintained a more open attitude to cultural influences from the west. We conclude that the marked continuity in exploitation, along with a change in the range of species, probably points to a change in the dietary preferences. It seems that the inhabitants of the site were not “replaced” by other groups, but rather adopted new norms.


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