Origins of house mice in ecological niches created by settled hunter-gatherers in the Levant 15,000 y ago

Lior Weissbrod*, Fiona B. Marshall, Francois R. Valla, Hamoudi Khalaily, Guy Bar-Oz, Jean-Christophe Auffray, Jean-Denis Vigne, Thomas Cucchi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Citations (Scopus)


Reductions in hunter-gatherer mobility during the Late Pleistocene influenced settlement ecologies, altered human relations with animal communities, and played a pivotal role in domestication. The influence of variability in human mobility on selection dynamics and ecological interactions in human settlements has not been extensively explored, however. This study of mice in modern African villages and changing mice molar shapes in a 200,000-y-long sequence from the Levant demonstrates competitive advantages for commensal mice in long-term settlements. Mice from African pastoral households provide a referential model for habitat partitioning among mice taxa in settlements of varying durations. The data reveal the earliest known commensal niche for house mice in long-term forager settlements 15,000 y ago. Competitive dynamics and the presence and abundance of mice continued to fluctuate with human mobility through the terminal Pleistocene. At the Natufian site of Ain Mallaha, house mice displaced less commensal wild mice during periods of heavy occupational pressure but were outcompeted when mobility increased. Changing food webs and ecological dynamics in long-term settlements allowed house mice to establish durable commensal populations that expanded with human societies. This study demonstrates the changing magnitude of cultural niche construction with varying human mobility and the extent of environmental influence before the advent of farming.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4099-4104
Number of pages6
Issue number16
Early online date27 Mar 2017
Publication statusPublished - 18 Apr 2017

Bibliographical note

We thank the late Prof. Eitan Tchernov and Dr. Rivka Rabinovich from the National Natural History Collections at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for providing T.C. access to Mus molars from archaeological sites included in this study. We also thank the excavators, including Ofer Bar-Yosef, Avi Gopher, Arthur Jelinek, Donald Henry, and Bernard Vandermeersch, for meticulous collection of the skeletal remains of small mammals. The ethnoarchaeological study was supported by National Science Foundation Grant BCS-0536507 (to L.W.).


  • house mouse
  • sedentism
  • Natufian hunter-gatherers
  • commensalism
  • niche construction


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