Session: #151

Theme & Session Format

7. Archaeology of Sustainability through World Crises, Climate Change and War
Session format:
Regular session

Title & Content

The Beasts Among Us: A Closer Look at Synanthropic Human-Animal Relations in the Past
Synanthropism, a concept closely related to commensalism, refers to a behaviour of free-ranging animals benefiting from their shared ecology with humans. Human activities provide food resources, such as food waste or stored agricultural products, and the human-modified environment provides security and homes for these animals. As consequences of synanthropic behaviour, the population density, reproductive rate, and survival advantage of synanthropes increase. Individual home ranges typically decrease as animals feed on spatially concentrated anthropogenic resources, yet species distributions may increase as anthropogenic environments (and human transport) permit dispersal to new regions. Synanthropes are an important aspect of the human experience of animals, often taking on particular cultural significance and encouraging unique human-animal relationships, ranging from pests to pets. At the same time, their archaeological presence may provide valuable information on the conditions of past human settlements and landscape modifications.
In this session we will take a closer look at synanthropic behaviour in the past, from the palaeo-synanthropic behaviour of small scavengers in the Pleistocene, through cultural successors and introduced species such as house mice and domestic cats from the Neolithic onwards, to rats and other taxa often associated with urban settlements. We welcome submissions on any animals that have benefited from a human-made environment through time – including birds, reptiles, and even invertebrates in addition to mammals – as well as broader reviews, theoretical perspectives, and methodological contributions. We hope the session will provide a fruitful discussion encompassing all aspects of synanthropic research, from cultural studies to the natural sciences. Finally, we want to explore how the study of synanthropism can illuminate aspects of past societies and provide clues to future human-animal interactions.
Synanthropism, Commensalism, Human-animal, Animals, Synanthropes, Mammals
Session associated with MERC:
Session associated with CIfA:
Session associated with SAfA:
Session associated with CAA:
Session associated with DGUF:
Session associated with other:
PaM - Palaeolithic and Mesolithic Community


Main organiser:
Ingeborg Hornkjøl (Norway) 1
Chris Baumann (Germany) 2
David Orton (United Kingdom) 3
Michelle Feider (United Kingdom) 3
1. University of Stavanger
2. University of Tübingen
3. University of York