New Evidence for the Processing of Wild Cereal Grains at Ohalo II, a 23 000-Year-Old Campsite on the Shore of the Sea of Galilee, Israel

By Nadel, Dani; Piperno, Dolores R. et al. | Antiquity, December 2012 | Go to article overview

New Evidence for the Processing of Wild Cereal Grains at Ohalo II, a 23 000-Year-Old Campsite on the Shore of the Sea of Galilee, Israel


Nadel, Dani, Piperno, Dolores R., Holst, Irene, Snir, Ainit, Weiss, Ehud, Antiquity


Introduction

The site of Ohalo II, located on the south-western shore of the Sea of Galilee in Israel, was a fisher-hunter-gatherer campsite dating to about 23 000 years ago (Nadel et al. 1995; Nadel 2002). Immediate and quick submergence of the site after it was abandoned provided remarkable preservation conditions (Belitzky & Nadel 2001; Tsatskin & Nadel 2003). The site was submerged for millennia, and thus a wide array of material remains were well preserved in situ. Of these, the most significant are the brush huts and the finds exposed on their floors.

As reported previously (Nadel & Werker 1999; Nadel 2002), the remains of six brush huts were identified during fieldwork, with several concentrations of hearths around them (Figure 1). Four of the brush huts were fully excavated, and two were comprehensively sampled. They all had a bowl-like cross-section, indicating that the inhabitants made shallow depressions in the soft bedrock before constructing the huts. Four huts were oval in general shape, while two had a kidney-like shape with an entrance from the east. The construction materials of Brush Hut 1, the largest at the site, were identified as thick branches of Tamarix (Tamarisk), Salix (Willow) and Quercus ithaburensis (Oak), covered by smaller branches of plants such as Atriplex/Seidlitzia (Orach/Seidlitzia) and Prosopis (Mesquite), as well as leaves and grasses (Nadel & Werker 1999: tab. 2).

Brush Hut 1 had three successive floors. Grass bedding was well preserved on the bottom floor; it was made of bundles of one species, Puccinellia (Nadel et al. 2004a). Evidence for other floors with grass bedding, badly preserved, was found on floor II and in other brush huts. Tiny fragments of twisted fibre were found in this brush hut, reflecting the possible use of cords, strings, nets etc. (Nadel et al. 1994). Wooden objects were found in several brush huts (Nadel et al. 2006).

Most remarkable are the charred and even uncharred seeds and fruit. So far a sample of c. 150 000 specimens has been studied (Kislev et al. 1992; Simchoni 1997; Weiss 2002; Nadel 2004). Most of these are well preserved, and they represent c. 150 taxa, many of which have been identified to species level. The floral assemblage directly informs the diet of the inhabitants, as well as the immediate mosaic of plant communities and the environment in more general terms. The wealth of organic remains also enabled the readings of over 40 [sup.14]C dates, which gave a calibrated range of 22 500-23 500 BP (Nadel et al. 1995, 2004b; Nadel 2002).

The skeleton of one adult male (c. 40 years old) was found in a shallow grave. The individual was about 1.73m tall and right-handed. He was buried on his back with hands folded on the chest, knees folded and head turned to the east (Nadel & Hershkovitz 1991; Hershkovitz et al. 1993, 1995). Other finds include a wealth of faunal remains, of which fish bones are particularly abundant (Zohar 2002). Within the mammals, gazelles are by far the most common, followed by fallow deer and smaller species (Rabinovich & Nadel 2005). More than 80 species of birds were identified (Simmons & Nadel 1998), and a range of micromammals was also studied (Belmaker et al. 2001). Within the brush huts and near the hearths we found a rich assemblage of flint artefacts (Nadel 2001), ground stone tools, worked bone tools (Rabinovich & Nadel 1994-95), as well as dentalium and columbella beads from the Mediterranean Sea (Bar-Yosef Mayer 2002).

Of pivotal interest is a flat basalt stone that was firmly set on the second floor (floor II) of Brush Hut 1 (Figure 1) on a patch of sand and supported by several cobbles (Figure 2; Nadel 2003). The stone has been studied, including through starch grain analysis (Piperno et al. 2004) as well as the distribution patterns of the seeds around it (Weiss et al. 2008). This analysis indicated that the stone had been employed in the grinding of wild cereals. …

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