Pattern in the Epipalaeolithic of the Levant: Debate after Neeley & Barton

By Goring-Morris, Nigel; Henry, Donald O. et al. | Antiquity, March 1996 | Go to article overview

Pattern in the Epipalaeolithic of the Levant: Debate after Neeley & Barton


Goring-Morris, Nigel, Henry, Donald O., Phillips, James L., Clark, G. A., Barton, C. Michael, Neeley, Michael P., Antiquity


The ANTIQUITY paper by Neeley & Barton (1994) - hereafter 'N&B' - prompted responses published in the June number last year: Fellner (1995) and Kaufman (1995). Here are more (all shorter than the full versions received), together with a response from Barton & Neeley (B&N) that rounds off the present discussion. The debaters have seen others' contributions, so there is some cross-comment within them.

The questions and the issues are old fundamentals of lithic research and analysis, which one cannot expect to end with this debate.

Square pegs into round holes: a critique of Neeley & Barton

The Levantine Epipalaeolithic, c. 20,000-10,000 BP, represents one of the most intensively studied periods in prehistoric research in the past 30 years, with literally hundreds of sites being discovered and many systematically investigated. The researchers involved come from a diverse range of backgrounds and national 'schools', and include American, Australian, British, French and Israeli scholars. Some, myself included, see its variability in chipped stone tool morphology, techniques of manufacture and specific means of hafting to reflect, in addition to functional factors, the stylistic traditions of specific groups in the landscape (Bar-Yosef 1991a; Goring-Morris 1987; 1995). This evidence is further bolstered by chrono-stratigraphy, settlement patterns, inter- and intra-site organization and patterning, as well as other material culture residues (Goring-Morris 1989a; 1989b; 1991). N&B, who find this approach barren, invalid, and simply incorrect, propose their 'new' model without themselves having actually studied (at the time they wrote their paper) a single one of the assemblages in the Negev and Sinai which they treat: they display a profound lack of understanding of knapping techniques, and they misquote, distort or ignore data relevant to almost all the issues they raise. Unfortunately the reply of B&N continues in the same vein. The behavioural correlates of their interpretation are mind-boggling, with all occupants/knappers on abandoning site seemingly downing tools in unison, all having reached the same stage in the reduction sequence!

Contrary to the views of another respondent (Clark - interestingly the dissertation supervisor of one of the authors), the issue here has nothing to do with so-called 'Americanist' versus 'Francophile' paradigms - four of the six respondents are American-bred and educated and none of the six has ever studied in France! The real issue here is with N&B's scientific integrity and academic credibility, rendering impossible serious debate at the interpretive or theoretical level. Their 'study' is based on published data (all by others) from 130 middle and late Epipalaeolithic Levantine assemblages, otherwise attributed to the Geometric Kebaran, Mushabian (sensu lato, including Ramonian) and Natufian. The vast majority (85%), including 100% of both their Geometric Kebaran and Mushabian samples, derive from the Negev and Sinai (N&B 1994: table 1), while a large portion of their Natufian sample comes from the north where many (23%) derive from old, poorly controlled excavations. They ignore all recent research east of the Jordan Valley, save two Natufian sites. Somewhat surprisingly, though perhaps intentionally, N&B omit all reference to the Harifian, a well-documented final Natufian variant, geographically restricted to the Negev and Sinai (Goring-Morris 1987; 1991; Scott 1977).

One of the authors at least was made aware of its shortcomings when N&B submitted the paper to ANTIQUITY, since he had visited my laboratory to conduct dissertation research. Even without the materials shown to him then, the data presented in my synthesis of the Negev and Sinai Epipalaeolithic (Goring-Morris 1987) contradict N&B's arguments: N&B ignored its detailed distribution maps and relevant columns of data, as well as other detailed studies (Goring-Morris 1987; 1989; 1991). …

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