Initial Upper Palaeolithic in South-Central Turkey and Its Regional Context: A Preliminary Report

Article excerpt


The earliest Upper Palaeolithic industries of southwest Asia have been documented in a relatively small number of localities widely scattered throughout the eastern Mediterranean. These assemblages share a number of features, including a distinctive approach to blade manufacture that combines elements normally considered typical of both Middle and Upper Palaeolithic technologies. Two sites located in the Hatay region of south-central Turkey, Ucagizli cave and Kanal, contain substantial early Upper Palaeolithic deposits. Technologically, the materials from these two sites resemble the 'initial' Upper Palaeolithic of the Levantine area as well as the Bohunician of central Europe. Ucagizli cave has also provided two AMS radiocarbon dates, adding to the very small number of absolute dates available for comparable assemblages in the region.

The initial Upper Palaeolithic in the Near East

The early Upper Palaeolithic in the Near East has long attracted the interest of palaeoanthropologists and Palaeolithic archaeologists. Because it is the principal land route between Africa and Eurasia, the Near East plays a key role in many scenarios for the origins and spread of both modern humans and the suite of behavioural characteristics which constitute the Upper Palaeolithic. The few radiometric dates currently available further suggest that some of the oldest typologically Upper Palaeolithic industries in the world come from the Levantine area. Moreover, some technological characteristics of the earliest Upper Palaeolithic in the Near East are strongly reminiscent of the Levallois method, more commonly associated with the Mousterian, thus raising the possibility that these assemblages document an in situ evolutionary transition from Middle to Upper Palaeolithic.

The most ancient Near Eastern Upper Palaeolithic has gone by several different names. based on early discoveries in the Jordan valley and elsewhere, Neuville (1934) and Garrod (1951; 1957) used the terms UP1 and Emiran (respectively) to refer to the first stage of the Upper Palaeolithic in the Levant. The mixture of features from Middle Palaeolithic Levallois and Upper Palaeolithic blade technologies later led some investigators to refer to these assemblages as 'transitional' (e.g. Azoury 1986). This term has been abandoned, largely because it presumes a phylogenetic relationship between Mousterian and Upper Palaeolithic based on a simple combination of technological traits. The term 'initial' Upper Palaeolithic (IUP) seems the most neutral and appropriate.

Sites yielding initial Upper Palaeolithic assemblages occur throughout the eastern Mediterranean. The southernmost IUP locality, and the best documented to date, is the open-air site of Boker Tachtit in the Negev desert. Extensive refitting of artefacts and meticulous technological studies reveal what the excavator believes to be a smooth transition between a laminar but essentially Middle Palaeolithic approach to blank production (in layer 1) to a fully-developed, Upper Palaeolithic-type system for prismatic blade manufacture (in layer 4) (Marks 1983a; 1993; Volkman 1983). Farther north, in the area of Beirut, Lebanon, lies the deeply stratified site of Ksar Akil, the key Upper Palaeolithic sequence for the Levantine area. Layers 25-21 (stage 1) at Ksar Akil (Azoury 1986; Bergman 1988; Ohnuma 1988; Ohnuma & Bergman 1990) have yielded the largest initial Upper Palaeolithic assemblages known. Similar materials were recovered from the nearby sites of Antelias shelter (layers V-VII) (Copeland 1970) and Abu Halka (IV, e-f) (Azoury 1986; Copeland & Wescomb 1965). A series of open-air sites in Lebanon have yielded assemblages, termed 'Meyroubian', which combine Middle and Upper Palaeolithic features (Copeland & Wescomb 1965). The stratigraphic contexts of the 'Meyroubian' collections are ambiguous, however, and it is not clear what exactly they represent (Copeland & Wescombe 1965; Schyle 1992). …