Three engraved limestone plaquettes from the recently excavated Epipaleolithic open-air site Ein Qashish South in the Jezreel Valley, Israel comprise unique evidence for symbolic behavior of Late Pleistocene foragers in the Levant. The engravings, uncovered in Kebaran and Geometric Kebaran deposits (ca. 23ka and ca. 16.5ka BP), include the image of a bird- the first figurative representation known so far from a pre-Natufian Epipaleolithic-along with geometric motifs such as chevrons, crosshatchings and ladders. Some of the engravings closely resemble roughly contemporary European finds interpreted as "systems of notations" or "artificial memory systems"-records related to timing of seasonal resources and associated aggregation events of nomadic groups. Moreover, similarly looking signs and patterns are well known from the context of the local Natufian-a final Epipaleolithic culture of sedentary or semi-sedentary foragers who started practicing agriculture. The investigation of the engravings found in Ein Qashish South involves conceptualizations developed in studies of European and local parallels, a selection of ethnographic examples and preliminary microscopic observations of the plaquettes. This shows that the figurative and non-figurative images comprise a coherent assemblage of symbols that might have been applied in order to store, share and transmit information related to social and subsistence realms of mobile bands. It further suggests that the site functioned as a locality of groups' aggregation and indicates social complexity of pre-Natufian foragers in the Levant. While alterations in social and subsistence strategies can explain the varying frequency of image use characterizing different areas of the Late Pleistocene world-the apparent similarity in graphics and the mode of their application support the possibility that symbol-mediated behavior has a common and much earlier origin.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)