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Wood exploitation patterns and pastoralist–environment relationships: charcoal remains from Iron Age Ṡhakal, Dhufar, Sultanate of Oman

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Abstract

Pastoralists have played a key role in shaping the landscape of Dhufar, Oman. With woody taxa tightly restricted to ecological zones and evidence of continuity in the structure of these vegetative communities, this region is a good case study for examining the relationships between pastoralists and their environments over time. The ethnobotanical literature of modern Dhufar documents pastoralists’ preferences for woody taxa for particular tasks. What remains uncertain is the time depth of these patterns. The archaeological site of Ṡhakal provides a rich charcoal assemblage, a material culture that allows archaeologists to approach human–landscape relations, even as such assemblages are relatively rare from ancient pastoralist sites. We argue that there is continuity to wood resource use over the last two millennia and this continuity correlates with a self-sufficient herding economy. With statistical analyses of the taxa identified and their respective contexts in the Iron Age occupations at Ṡhakal, we detect continuity in wood resource use over the last two millennia. Our results suggest that the wood exploitation patterns at Ṡhakal reflect preferences for abundant wood types with distinct physical properties. Furthermore, these results are consistent with a long-term self-sufficient pastoral tradition sustainable over millennia in a region that has only recently experienced severe environmental degradation.

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Acknowledgements

This project has been partially funded by the National Geographic Society (Award #9028-11), the American Institute for Yemeni Studies, and Canadian Nexen Petroleum Yemen, Ltd. We also take delight in dedicating this study to Naomi Miller, whose mentoring was crucial to our early careers and whose pioneering study of wood charcoal at Malyan remains a landmark in Near Eastern palaeoethnobotany.

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Correspondence to Abigail Buffington.

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Communicated by J. M. Marston.

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Buffington, A., McCorriston, J. Wood exploitation patterns and pastoralist–environment relationships: charcoal remains from Iron Age Ṡhakal, Dhufar, Sultanate of Oman. Veget Hist Archaeobot 28, 283–294 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00334-018-0682-y

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