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Deer and Humans in the Early Farming Communities of the Yellow River Valley: A Symbiotic Relationship

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Abstract

Much of the zooarchaeological research on early agricultural societies in North China focuses on long-term processes of animal domestication. The conventional idea of a simple transition from foraging wild species to farming domesticated ones has obscured ecological relationships that lie somewhere between the two. We argue that early farming strategies in North China may have resembled those of agricultural societies in North America where farmers managed landscapes to create deer habitat, which increased deer populations and facilitated hunting. Deer were one of the main sources of food, antlers, and hides for people in China for thousands of years. Shifting agriculture combined with deer hunting was a less intensive use of the landscape than the intensive agriculture that gradually replaced it. As domesticated cattle, sheep, and goats became more common in East Asia beginning around 5000 years ago, people had less need for the meat, bone, and antlers of deer. By the time Chinese historical texts were written, deer were largely confined to royal hunting parks in the densely populated agricultural centers of North China. A similar dynamic later played out in other regions of China.

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Acknowledgement

This research was inspired by conversations with our past and present colleagues, especially at Brown University, Harvard University, and the University of California, Los Angeles. The article benefited from the suggestions of three anonymous reviewers. We would like to thank the organizers and participants of the 2019 Environments and Adaptation in Ancient China symposium at the University of Michigan.

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Conceptualization: Brian Lander. Data and figure preparation: Katherine Brunson. Both authors contributed equally to the writing, review, and editing of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Katherine Brunson.

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Brunson, K., Lander, B. Deer and Humans in the Early Farming Communities of the Yellow River Valley: A Symbiotic Relationship. Hum Ecol 51, 609–625 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10745-023-00432-x

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