Early Multi-Resource Nomadism: Excavations at the Camel Site in the Central Negev

Article excerpt


Pastoral nomadism as an archaeological phenomenon has been the focus of archaeological study throughout the world in the past two decades (e.g. Bar-Yosef & Khazanov 1992; Mair 1998; Robertshaw 1990). Belying traditional assumptions of archaeological invisibility of the remains of nomadic societies (e.g. Finkelstein & Perevoletsky 1990 per contra Cribb 1991; Rosen 1992), research has spanned a range of perspectives and subjects dealing with the analysis of these cultures. These have included discussions of origins and development, social organisation, patterns of mobility, technological change and nomad-state relations. The paradigm underlying virtually 'all of these defines pastoral nomadism as an essentially ecological adaptation based on herding of domestic animals over a seasonal round in a peripheral zone, in fundamental contrast to sedentary agricultural societies.

As a qualification to this picture, ethnographic studies of Eurasian and North African pastoral nomadic societies have established the necessity of close ties between nomadic groups and their sedentary cousins (especially Khazanov 1984). Far from the mythology of the independent Bedouin, anthropology is in virtual consensus on the depth and significance of the economic relations between nomads and settled agricultural society (e.g. Bates 1973; Black-Michaud 1986). Recent nomadic groups acquire and have acquired manufactured goods and basic foodstuffs from the settled zone in exchange for a wide range of goods and services. Beyond the obvious animal products (dairy, meat, wool, etc.), these include, for example, the products of nomadic cottage industries, wage labour in the sedentary zone, military protection, and guiding/scouting in the peripheral zone. The importance of the non-pastoral activities is such that Salzman (1972) has dubbed pastoralists in Baluchistan 'multi-resource nomads', implying that most pastoral nomadic groups are similar.

Given the fundamental importance of these ties in the basic structure of pastoral nomadic societies, their origins and development constitute an important archaeological study area. Although Khazanov (1984:85-118), basing himself primarily on texts, suggests that pastoral nomadism in its 'pure' form did not arise until the first millennium BC, the basic economic structures abstracted above can be seen in the Early Bronze Age archaeology of the Negev. Excavations at the Camel Site provide one example of this early multi-resource nomadism.

The Camel Site and its excavation

The Camel Site is located approximately 200m north of the northern cliff of the Ramon Crater (makhtesh= erosional cirque), on the western outskirts of the town of Mitzpe Ramon (Figure 1). Its name derives from the Camel Lookout, a large prominence (in the shape of a camel) I overlooking the crater, on whose extended ridge the site rests. Excavations were conducted over the course of six years, from 1991 through 1996, the final season serving as the Ben-Gurion University study dig.


The site was excavated according to the general methods of Levantine prehistory (e.g. Bar-Yosef & Phillips 1977:6; Marks 1976:5). The excavation area was surveyed in a four metre square (2x2) grid system, and each square subdivided into metre square quadrants which provided the basic provenience unit of the excavation. Loci were defined according to architecture and features, and noted with the metre grid. Stratigraphy was defined according to natural layering, as reviewed below, such that each metre square was excavated according to at least two layers, 'surface' and 'upper,' and in the pens, an additional 'lower organic.' When depth was great, layers were subdivided, into for example, upper 1 and upper 2. Finally, all excavated sediments were sieved through 2-3 mm mesh and all artifactual material was saved. Sediment samples were taken from selected loci and flotation was also assayed in several places. …