Skip to main content Accessibility help

Animals as Social Actors: Cases of Equid Resistance in the Ancient Near East

  • Laerke Recht (a1)


This paper examines the concept of animals as social actors in the ancient Near East through a case study of human–equid relations. In particular, examples where equids may be seen as expressing resistance, as depicted in the iconography of the third and second millennia bc, are analysed. The first part of the paper discusses how animals have been perceived in scholarly debates in philosophy, archaeology and human–animal studies. It is argued that an acknowledgement of animals as social actors can improve our understanding of the human past, and the relation of humans to their broader environment. The second part of the paper presents three examples from the ancient Near East where equids may be interpreted as pushing back or resisting the boundaries placed by humans, resulting in a renegotiation of the relationship.



Hide All
Animal Studies Group, 2006. Killing Animals. Urbana/Chicago: University of Illinois Press.
Arbuckle, B.S. & McCarty, S.A. (eds.), 2014. Animals and Inequality in the Ancient World. Boulder (CO): University Press of Colorado.
Armstrong Oma, K., 2010. Between trust and domination: social contracts between humans and animals. World Archaeology 42(2), 175–87.
Baker, S., 2001. Picturing the Beast: Animals, identity, and representation. Urbana (IL): University of Illinois Press.
Barfield, T. (ed.), 1997. The Dictionary of Anthropology. Oxford: Blackwell.
Bekoff, M., Allen, C. & Burghardt, G.M. (eds.), 2002. The Cognitive Animal: Empirical and theoretical perspectives on animal cognition. Cambridge (MA): MIT Press.
Bianchi, A. & Wissing, A., 2009. Ausgrabungen 19982001 in der zentralen Oberstadt von Tall Mozan/Urkeš: Die Kleinfunde. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.
Boyd, B., 2017. Archaeology and human–animal relations: thinking through anthropocentrism. Annual Review of Anthropology 46(1), 299316.
Bryant, C.D., 2008. The zoological connection: animal-related human behavior, in Social Creatures: Social Creatures: A human and animal studies reader, ed. Flynn, C.P.. New York (NY): Lantern Books, 721.
Calarco, M. & Atterton, P. (eds.), 2004. Animal Philosophy: Essential readings in continental thought. London/New York: Continuum.
DeMello, M. (ed.), 2010. Teaching the Animal: Human-animal studies across the disciplines. New York (NY): Lantern Books.
Derrida, J., 2002. The animal that therefore I am (more to follow). Critical Inquiry 28(2), 369418.
Descartes, R., [1637] 1850. Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting the Reason, and Seeking the Truth in the Sciences (trans. Veltch, J.). Edinburgh: Sutherland & Knox.
Dornan, J.L., 2002. Agency and archaeology: past, present, and future directions. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 9(4), 303–29.
Eidem, J., Finkel, I. & Bonechi, M., 2001. The third-millennium inscriptions, in Excavations at Tell Brak. Vol. 2: Nagar in the third millennium BC, by Oates, D., Oates, J. & McDonald, H.. London: British School of Archaeology in Iraq, 99120.
Engel, M. Jr. & Jenni, K., 2010. Examined lives: teaching human-animal studies in philosophy, in Teaching the Animal: Human-animal studies across the disciplines, ed. DeMello, M.. New York (NY): Lantern Books, 60102.
Evans-Pritchard, E.E., 1956. Nuer Religion. New York (NY): Oxford University Press.
Fairbanks, A., 1898. The First Philosophers of Greece: An edition and translation of the remaining fragments of the pre-Sokratic philosophers, together with a translation of the more important accounts of their opinions contained in the early epitomes of their works. London: Kegan Paul.
Flynn, C.P. (ed.), 2008. Social Creatures: A human and animal studies reader. New York (NY): Lantern Books.
Fudge, E., 2002. Animal. London: Reaktion Books.
Gailey, C.W., 1987. Culture wars: resistance to state formation, in Power Relations and State Formation, eds. Patterson, T.C. & Gailey, C.W.. Washington (DC): American Anthropological Association, 3556.
Gallup, G.G. Jr., 1970. Chimpanzees: self-recognition. Science 167(3914), 86–7.
Gallup, G.G. Jr., 1982. Self-awareness and the emergence of mind in primates. American Journal of Primatology 2(3), 237–48.
Gardner, A., 2009. Agency, in Handbook of Archaeological Theories, eds. Bentley, R.A., Maschner, H.D.G. & Chippindale, C.. Lanham (MD): Rowman & Littlefield, 95108.
Giddens, A., 1979. Central Problems in Social Theory: Action, structure, and contradiction in social analysis. London: Macmillan.
Haraway, D.J., 2008. When Species Meet. Minneapolis/London: University of Minnesota Press.
Harris, K. & Hamilakis, Y., 2014. Beyond the wild, the feral, and the domestic: lessons from prehistoric Crete, in Routledge Handbook of Human-Animal Relations, ed. Marvin, G. & McHugh, S., 93–8. Abingdon/New York: Routledge.
Hauser, R., 2007. Reading Figurines: Animal representations in terra cotta from Royal Building AK at Urkesh (Tell Mozan). (Urkesh/Mozan Studies 5.) Malibu (CA): Undena Publications.
Hegel, G.W.H., 1998. Phenomenology of Spirit (trans. Miller, A.V.). Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.
Hribal, J., 2007. Animals, agency, and class: writing the history of animals from below. Human Ecology Review 14(1), 101–12.
Ingold, T., 1994. From trust to domination: an alternative history of human-animal relations. in Animals and Human Society: Changing perspectives, edited by Manning, A. & Serpell, J.. London/New York: Routledge, 122.
Johnson, A.G., 2000. The Blackwell Dictionary of Sociology: A user's guide to sociological language (2nd edn). Malden (MA): Blackwell.
Kant, I., 1997. Lectures on Ethics (trans. Heath, P.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kant, I., [1798] 2010. Anthropology from a pragmatic point of view, in Anthropology, History, and Education, ed. & trans. Louden, R.B.. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 227429.
Kendrick, K.M., da Costa, A.P., Leigh, A.E., Hinton, M.R. & Peirce, J.W., 2001. Sheep don't forget a face. Nature 414(6860), 165–6.
Legrain, L., 1930. Terra-Cottas from Nippur. Philadelphia (PA): University of Pennsylvania Press.
Littauer, M.A., 1969. Bits and pieces. Antiquity 43, 289300.
Littauer, M.A. & Crouwel, J.H., 1979. Wheeled Vehicles and Ridden Animals in the Ancient Near East. Leiden/Cologne: Brill.
Makowski, M., 2014. Terracotta equid figurines from Tell Arbid: new evidence on equids, their equipment and exploration in north Mesopotamia during third and first half of second millennium BC. Études et Travaux 27, 257–78.
Makowski, M., 2015. Zoomorphic clay figurines from Tell Arbid. Preliminary report. Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean 24(1), 627–56.
Mallowan, M.E.L., 1937. The excavations at Tall Chagar Bazar and an archaeological survey of the Habur region. Second campaign, 1936. Iraq 4(2), 91177.
Margueron, J., 2004. Mari, Métropole de l’Euphrate au IIIe et au début du IIe millénaire av. J.-C. Paris: Picard.
Meyer, J.-W. & Pruß, A., 1994. Ausgrabungen in Halawa 2: Die Kleinfunde von Tell Halawa A. Saarbrücken: Saarbrücker Druckerei und Verlag.
Mitchell, G.D. (ed.), 2006. A New Dictionary of the Social Sciences (2nd edn). New Brunswick (NJ): Transaction Publishers.
Mlekuž, D., 2013. The birth of the herd. Society & Animals 21(2), 150–61.
Morris, B., 2000. The Power of Animals: An ethnography. Oxford/New York: Berg.
Oates, D., Oates, J. & McDonald, H., 2001. Excavations at Tell Brak. Vol. 2: Nagar in the third millennium BC. London: British School of Archaeology in Iraq.
Oates, J., 2001. Equid figurines and ‘chariot’ models, in Excavations at Tell Brak. Vol. 2: Nagar in the third millennium BC, by Oates, D., Oates, J. & MacDonald, H.. London: British School of Archaeology in Iraq, 279–93.
Parker, S.T., Mitchell, R.W. & Boccia, M.L. (eds.), 2006. Self-Awareness in Animals and Humans: Developmental perspectives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Parrot, A., 1956. Mission archéologique de Mari. Vol.1: Le temple d’Ishtar. Paris: P. Geuthner.
Parrot, A., 1967. Mission archéologique de Mari. Vol.3: Les temples d’Ishtarat et de Ninni-Zaza. Paris: P. Geuthner.
Paynter, R. & McGuire, R.H., 1991. The archaeology of inequality: material culture, domination, and resistance, in The Archaeology of Inequality, eds. McGuire, R.H. & Paynter, R.. Oxford: Blackwell, 127.
Postgate, J.N., 1986. The equids of Sumer, again, in Equids in the Ancient World, ed. Meadow, R.H. & Uerpmann, H.-P.. Wiesbaden: Ludwig Reichert, 194204.
Proops, L., Grounds, K., Smith, A.V. & McComb, K., 2018. Animals remember previous facial expressions that specific humans have exhibited. Current Biology 28(9), 1428–32.
Recht, L., 2014. Transformers energise! Aegean Bronze Age rhyta in moments of transformation, in Embodying Value? The transformation of objects in and from the ancient world, eds. Rowan, C. & Bokern, A.. (BAR International series 2592.) Oxford: British Archaeological Reports, 3551.
Recht, L., 2018a. ‘Asses were buried with him’: equids as markers of sacred space in the third and second millennia BC in the Eastern Mediterranean, in Sacred Space: Contributions to the archaeology of belief, eds. Nebelsick, L.D., Wawrzeniuk, J. & Zeman-Wiśniewska, K.. (Archaeologica hereditas 13.) Warsaw: Uniwersytet Kardynała Stefana Wyszyńskiego, Instytut Archeologii, 6594.
Recht, L., 2018b. Horse figurines from Hala Sultan Tekke, in The New Swedish Cyprus Expedition 2017: Excavations at Hala Sultan Tekke (The Söderberg Expedition). Preliminary results, by P.M. Fischer & T. Bürge. Opuscula 11, 67–9.
Saitta, D.J., 1994. Agency, class, and archaeological interpretation. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 13(3), 201–27.
Schaeffer, C.F.A. 1949. Ugaritica II. Mission de Ras Shamra V. Paris: P. Geuthner.
Speiser, E.A., 1935. Excavations at Tepe Gawra. Vol. I: Levels I–VIII. Philadelphia (PA): University of Pennsylvania Press.
Strommenger, E. & Miglus, P.A., 2010. Tall Biʼa/Tuttul V: Altorientalische Kleinfunde. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.
Swedberg, R. & Agevall, O. (eds.), 2005. The Max Weber Dictionary: Key words and central concepts. Stanford (CA): Stanford University Press.
Theodorson, G.A. & Theodorson, A.G., 1970. A Modern Dictionary of Sociology. London: Methuen.
Viveiros de Castro, E., 1998. Cosmological deixis and Amerindian perspectivism. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 4, 469–88.
Walker, W.H., 2008. Practice and nonhuman social actors: the afterlife histories of witches and dogs in the American Southwest, in Memory Work, eds. Mills, B.J. & Walker, W.H.. Santa Fe (NM): School for Advanced Research Press, 137–57.
Zarins, J., with Hauser, R., 2014. The Domestication of Equidae in Third-Millennium BCE Mesopotamia. Bethesda (MD): CDL Press.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Cambridge Archaeological Journal
  • ISSN: 0959-7743
  • EISSN: 1474-0540
  • URL: /core/journals/cambridge-archaeological-journal
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed