After 80 Years – Deeper in the Natufian Layers of el-Wad Terrace, Mount Carmel, Israel

Mina Weinstein-Evron, Reuven Yeshurun, Hila Ashkenazy, Rivka Chasan, Danny Rosenberg, Noga Bachrach, Elisabetta Boaretto, Valentina Caracuta, Daniel Kaufman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The site of el-Wad Cave, and especially the adjacent terrace, is one of the deepest and most complex Natufian sites in the Mediterranean Levant. The northeast terrace of el-Wad has been excavated by us since 1994, revealing a rich Late Natufian layer and thick, multi-phased Early Natufian deposits. Here we focus on the 2007–2012 excavation seasons at el-Wad Terrace (EWT) and provide a detailed, updated account of the stratigraphy, sedimentology and dating of the site, the abundant Early Natufian architectural features and lithics, the ground stone tools assemblage and a primary burial of an adult woman. The Late Natufian appears as a relatively thin layer devoid of architectural features but containing a concentration of graves. Below it are thick Early Natufian sediments. Their upper part displays a few stone features. Their lower attained part represents the main “architectural stage” of the site. Architectural remains consist of a terrace wall and smaller walls, as well as stony floors, some of which abut the walls and likely constitute structure remains. Other features include large heaps of stones, lithics and bones, smaller stone installations (typically circles or pits), and distinct concentrations of finds or sediment patches.
The sediments of EWT are the result of complex depositional and post depositional processes. Various geoarchaeological data, including magnetic susceptibility and micromorphological analyses of the sediments indicate intensive in-situ anthropogenic activity such as fire use and/or trampling, especially in the architectural stage.
A large Early Natufian lithic sample from the two phases of the main architectural stage is described here in relation to its architectural context and through time. The ratios of tools, the distribution of the main tool categories, the dominance of lunates and Helwan retouch amongst the microliths, and the wealth of burins of various types resemble those of other Early Natufian assemblages. No temporal trends are apparent but a peak in flint densities was identified, coinciding with the transition between the two architectural phases. Additionally, the excavation has yielded one of the largest Natufian ground stone tool assemblages, encompassing nearly a thousand ground stone tools and tool fragments. The assemblage shows no noticeable differences between the Early and Late Natufian. These assemblages highlight the dominance of pestles and the related preference for compact basalt used to produce these items. Pestle discard patterns reflect the clear removal of the pestle active ends from the site in both periods.
Our excavation results bring to light the existence of a massive and repeatedly (perhaps continuously) occupied living compound at the site during the Early Natufian. The good preservation of numerous architectural levels enabled us to study the artifactual assemblages in great detail, both temporally and spatially. Studies of different materials all show that items that went out of use were discarded within the Natufian living compound and underwent complex taphonomic processes by human action (primarily fire use and trampling) and geogenic processes. While changes in site use (especially building activities vs. interments) are apparent throughout the sequence, changes in material culture are less obvious. Overall, the deep Natufian sequence presented here, with the repeated structure construction, numerous features, huge densities of finds and ample indications for intensive, recurring habitations mark EWT as a significant Natufian hamlet, one of the few major hamlets in the Mediterranean zone during the Early Natufian.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-61
Number of pages57
JournalMitekufat Haeven: Journal of the Israel Prehistoric Society
Volume48
StatePublished - Nov 2018

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