A 14 000 Year-Old Hunter-Gatherer's Toolkit

By Edwards, Phillip C. | Antiquity, December 2007 | Go to article overview

A 14 000 Year-Old Hunter-Gatherer's Toolkit


Edwards, Phillip C., Antiquity


Introduction

A cache of 36 objects provides a rare insight into the organisation of hunting and gathering technology by a late Pleistocene hunter-gatherer community which lived in the Jordan Valley around 12 000 BP/12 000 cal BC. The items were found at the Early Natufian site of Wadi Hammeh 27 (Figure 1) and include an intact sickle and an incomplete bone haft, set amid other groups of artefacts and materials, including five gazelle podia] bones, seven polished alluvial pebbles, 21 lunates (a characteristic type of Natufian flint projectile point) and a flint bladelet core (Edwards 1991a). The items comprising Artefact Cluster 9 (Figure 2) were deposited on the interior earthen floor of Structure 1, one of two dwellings excavated from the uppermost occupation phase (Phase 1) of the site (Figure 3).

The Natufian culture (Garrod 1932) developed in the southern Levant in the terminal Pleistocene around 13000 BP (Weinstein-Evron 1998; Stutz 2004). Representing the antecedent to agrarian village life in the Middle East, the Natufian marks a critical juncture in human prehistory (Byrd 1989; Valla 1998; Bar-Yosef 2002). Intensive exploitation of plant resources was associated with a reduction in residential mobility and the foundation of residential settlements containing substantial stone dwellings. Human burials were incorporated beneath and between the floor levels of houses. Novel artefact forms were produced to procure and process plant resources, including composite sickles made of bone and flint and a diverse array of basalt mortars, querns, pestles and grinding stones. The Natufian also witnessed a florescence of mobiliary art, with the production of various symbolic representations rendered on tools and ornaments of bone and stone.

These aspects of the Natufian culture are well in evidence at Wadi Hammeh 27, excavated between 1983 and 1990. Two large, oval huts were excavated from the site's uppermost phase, dated to c. 12 000 BP/12 000 Cal BC (Edwards 1991a). Both were associated with a variety of stone features such as hearths, postholes and pavements. Beneath Phase 1 were stratified two earlier constructional phases which in turn overlay several human burials (Webb & Edwards 2002). The site yielded a varied corpus of art mobilier ranging from large-scale incised slabs to small plaques. The occupants subsisted on a diverse fauna, and botanical remains attest to cereal and legume exploitation. Many caches of tools, raw materials and refuse (Artefact Clusters 1-17, Figure 4) were deposited at Wadi Hammeh 27, embedded in a rich amalgam of refuse which comprised bone scraps, flint fragments, ochre and tools, and ornaments of bone, shell, limestone, siltstone, basalt--and even dispersed human skeletal remains (Hardy-Smith & Edwards 2004). Most of the artefact clusters were placed close to the opening of Structure 1, or near the walls of Structures 1 and 2.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Wadi Hammeh 27 is situated in an ecotonal setting between Irano-Turanian steppic lowlands and Mediterranean highlands, at an altitude of 83.5m below mean sea level. During the period of its occupation, the site lay in a broad, flat valley, watered by aquifers emerging a couple of hundred metres upstream (Macumber 1992). A variety of environmental zones were accessible within a few minutes walk in any direction, including wooded areas on the Jordanian Plateau to the east and the lowlands of the Jordan Valley to the west. It is likely that the Jordan Valley was then occupied by a lake, bordered by marshy shores and embayments (Abed 1985). Such environments provided habitats for the various aquatic and migratory birds found in the Wadi Hammeh 27 fauna. The rich Mediterranean red soils of the Tabaqat Fahl massif located to the south-west of the site would have supported pastures of wild grasses.

[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]

[FIGURE 3 OMITTED]

[FIGURE 4 OMITTED]

The context and composition of Artefact Cluster 9

Artefact Cluster 9 was located near the entrance to Structure 1 (Figure 3; Grid-square G11, Figure 4), a metre inside its perimeter wall and near to a pair of grooved basalt plaques (Artefact Cluster 8 on Figure 4). …

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