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The special role of pigeons in turning the Negev green 1500 years ago

 The bizarre role of the Byzantine pigeon: A new study conducted at the University of Haifa has discovered the first archaeological evidence of the role of pigeons in Byzantine agriculture in the Negev - improving and fertilizing vineyard and orchard areas.

Pigeons in a colony. Source: Dr. Yotam Teper, University of Haifa.

Those who took a central part in turning the Byzantine Negev, which about 1500 years ago, flourished, were pigeons - according to a new study conducted at the Zinman Institute of Archeology of the University of Haifa and published in the prestigious journal PlosOne. In the research, which focused on the ancient settlements of Shevta and Sa'don, the archaeological evidence was found that the Byzantines in the Negev raised pigeons not for food, but for the purpose of fertilizing the loess soils and making them more suitable for intensive agriculture. "The pigeon droppings are rich in phosphorus, potassium and nitrogen values, which are essential for agriculture and are lacking in the loess soils of the Negev. The fact that the bones of the pigeons we found are much smaller than pigeons raised for the meat industry, together with the nesting materials discovered in the nests and the location of those within the agricultural fields, indicate that the pigeons were raised without significant intervention, when humans mainly provided them with protection", the researchers noted.

In recent years, a large-scale study has been conducted in the Negev Byzantine settlements led by Prof. Guy Bar-Oz from the University of Haifa to understand, among other things, how the Byzantines managed to maintain an extensive agricultural system in the desert about 1500 years ago, and what caused these prosperous settlements to suddenly be abandoned. In a study published a few months ago, the research group presented significant archeological evidence of the extent of agriculture in the Negev at that time, using the bones of a rodent called Marion, a common gerbil that lives only in more humid environments and is not found in desert areas. Now, in the current study led by Dr. Nimrod Marom from the University of Haifa and Tel Hai College, in collaboration with Prof. Bar-Oz and Dr. Yotam Teper from the Institute of Archeology at the University of Haifa and Dr. Baruch Rosen from the Volcanic Institute, the researchers wanted to focus on the study of pigeon bones from the Shobachim (Columbia ) found in the agricultural areas near the Byzantine settlements.

According to the researchers, the pigeon droppings are known as a source of important minerals for agriculture, such as phosphorus, potassium and nitrogen, and in many parts of the world it was customary until recently to use them to fertilize and fertilize the soil. However, throughout history pigeons have been bred for other purposes, the main one being meat. In order to try and determine the size of the Negev pigeons, the researchers examined the bones of the pigeons found in the burrows, as well as the chemical composition of the droppings themselves.

Pigeon bones in an excavation in Articulation, a Byzantine return in Sadoon. Source: Yotam Teper, Haifa University.
Pigeon bones in an excavation in Articulation, a Byzantine return in Sadoon. Source: Dr. Yotam Teper, University of Haifa.

The large amount of bones found in the excavations allowed the researchers to identify the average length of the wing, body structure and skull characteristics of the pigeons from the Byzantine period compared to the bones of pigeons of different races from the modern era. The comparative work was based, among other things, on comparing the pigeons from the Negev with the pigeons that the father of the theory of evolution Charles Darwin himself collected and studied, and whose bones are currently in the British National Museum. The researchers' important discovery is that the pigeons from the Byzantine period were small, muscular and "athletic" and did not differ in size from wild pigeons. According to Dr. Marom, a smaller body size is not only a clear indication of less meat, but it turns out that the smaller the pigeons, the faster their metabolism, or in simple words - smaller pigeons produce more droppings relative to the food they consume.

The chemical tests conducted in the laboratory showed that the dung is indeed rich in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium values. "Added to this fact, the location of the shovekim in an agricultural area and far from the settlements, strengthens the hypothesis that the pigeons were raised in the shovekim to produce high-quality manure intended for the improvement of the loess soils of the desert. The pigeons of the flock could fly freely and obtain their own food, the droppings collected on the floor of the flock were used to fertilize fruit trees and vines in the vineyards and orchards. In addition to these finds, we found a rich botanical find in the shovekims themselves that included vine seeds, dates, olives, peaches and a variety of wild plants, all of which were remnants of the food the pigeons ate, as well as the remains of many branches. All of these are further evidence that the Negev in the Byzantine period was green and flourishing," the researchers concluded.

3 תגובות

  1. The Negev became desolate for reasons that do not depend on the end of agriculture in it: according to historical evidence. There was a period of dryness and lack of precipitation in all of Israel starting from the 9th century AD. Due to this, the amount of coastal dunes increased and they reduced the settlement along the coast of the country, penetrated the interior of the country and interfered with agriculture. Ramla was abandoned as the capital of the country in this century, which was rich in droughts and sandstorms. And this is in contrast to the humid period, which is well-documented in artifacts and ancient writings, from the 4th to the XNUMXth century AD.

  2. Poultry breeder to enhance butchers the chicken for meat at some point.
    It is likely that even in the Negev, they did not give up the possibility...

  3. It sounds a bit strange that they raised pigeons for fertilization purposes
    It makes much more sense that the pigeons were raised in agricultural areas for food purposes
    The pigeons fed on the remains of agricultural crops and their manure fertilized the fields and orchards
    And so nothing is wasted

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