News Release

UC research explores early agriculture, which dogs make for the best hunters and more

Peer-Reviewed Publication

University of Cincinnati

Nicaraguan Hunters and Their Dogs

image: These are Nicaraguan hunters and their dogs on a hunt in the forest. view more 

Credit: Jeremy Koster, University of Cincinnati

Among the research presented by University of Cincinnati faculty and students at the April 18-22 Society for American Archaeology meeting will be an examination of early agriculture in southern Europe in the 7th century B.C., research on the role of volcanic activity in the rise and fall of the Mayan metropolis of Tikal, and study of hunting dogs in small-scale societies. See more below.


In conducting research on hunting dogs in lowland Nicaragua, UC researchers have found that older and male dogs seem to enjoy better success rates than do younger and female dogs. Also, dogs are more suited to wildlife sustainability than other hunting options. Hunters with firearms tend to disproportionately hunt prey that lives in trees, including slow-breeding primates, whereas hunters with dogs tend to harvest relatively fast-breeding animals such as agoutis, pacas and armadillos.

The research examined variables such as age and sex on the amount of harvested game that dogs contribute from subsistence hunting in an indigenous community where such hunting has had a long and important role in community survival. Community members in the region capture about 85 percent of harvested mammals with the aid of dogs.

Among the specific findings: As both male and female dogs reach three years of age, they tend to increase their hunting success and produce greater harvests. Older, male and female dogs in the study population returned more game to their owners than did younger dogs. And bigger dogs are able to track and corral bigger prey, which increases their hunting return rates, and in general, male dogs are bigger than females.

The UC research was conducted in Nicaragua's Bosawas Biosphere Reserve, which is part of the largest unbroken tracts of Neotropical rainforest in Central America, north of the Amazon Rainforest. The researchers based the study on the hunting activities of the Mayangna and the Miskito, two indigenous ethnic groups, who live along a tributary of the Coco River, not far from the border with Honduras.

UC presenters: Jeremy Koster, assistant professor of anthropology
Ken Tankersley, assistant professor of anthropology


UC excavations in Vashtëmi, Albania, one of the earliest farming sites in Europe, show that Vashtëmi, was occupied around 6,500 cal BC, making it one of the earliest farming sites in Europe. The location of early sites such as Vashtëmi near wetland edges suggests that the earliest farmers in Europe preferentially selected such resource-rich settings to establish pioneer farming villages. At Vashtëmi, the researchers have found cereal-based agriculture including emmer, einkorn and barley; animals such as pigs, cattle and sheep or goats (the two are hard to tell apart for many bones of the skeleton); and deer, wild pig, rabbit, turtle, several species of fish and eels. What seems evident is that the earliest farmers in the region cast a wide net for food resources, rather than relying primarily on crops and domesticated animals, as is widely assumed. Read more on this research.

UC presenter: Susan Allen, field service assistant professor
Ilirjan Gjipali, head, Department of Prehistory, Institute of Archaeology, Butrint, Albania


While others have argued that rapid economic growth, military conquest, and political domination led to the rise of Tikal, inexhaustible fertile soils would have been crucial to the city-state's growth, development, and sustainability. X-ray diffraction and x-ray fluorescence results from natural depressions and reservoir sediments provide the first clear-cut evidence of a long-term explosive volcanic history of the region. Ash fall from explosive volcanic events blanketed Tikal throughout the Late Holocene, providing the Maya with a mechanism to maintain soil fertility on a limestone bedrock surface in a tropical environment.

UC presenters: Ken Tankersley, assistant professor of anthropology
Vernon L. Scarborough, professor of anthropology
Nicholas Dunning, professor of geography
David Lentz, professor of biology


UC researchers continue to investigate agriculture among the Maya in what are called "bajos," which are – essentially – seasonal swamps where the muds become very deep very quickly when it rains. UC findings at Bajo Akalches near the ancient Maya city of El Mirador suggest that while large areas within bajos were likely poorly suited for agriculture, these widespread depressions included important tracts of arable land and other vital resources, including water and timber.

UC presenters: Nicholas Dunning, professor of geography
Ken Tankersley, assistant professor of anthropology
Robert Griffin, environmental archaeologist, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Al.
Timothy Beach, professor of geography and geosciences and Cinco Hermanos chair in environment and international affairs, Georgetown University
Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach, professor of geography and geoinformation science, George Mason University


Excavations at the Classic Maya site of Say Kah, Belize, focus on contextualizing this secondary site within the Three Rivers region, an area dominated by the nearby center of La Milpa. Utilizing a heterarchical model of organization, we explore possible resources – both material and non-material – that may have been focuses of local identity assertion and power for the ancient occupants. We consider burial contexts, subfloor artifact deposits, and architectural organization as avenues for illuminating expressed identities and relationships; these are also fruitful contexts for comparison with other "secondary centers," clarifying the roles such sites played within sociopolitical hierarchies.

UC presenters: Sarah Jackson, assistant professor of anthropology
Linda Brown, professorial lecturer in anthropology, George Washington University


The use of petrographic identification remains the most inexpensive, widely available, and non-destructive technique used to determine chert source areas. The archaeological site of 33Ha49 in Hamilton County, Ohio was used as a case study in the use of petrographic identification. Exploring the possible ways in which prehistoric peoples in the Ohio Valley may have utilized waterways, petrographic identification was used to source over 17,000 of flaked-stone artifacts. This case study demonstrates the usefulness of petrography as well as emphasizes the necessity of sampling chert sources and placing petrography within a proper context.

UC presenters: Janine Sparks, anthropology graduate student
Ken Tankersley, assistant professor of anthropology


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