New Fieldwork at Shuqba Cave and in Wadi En-Natuf, Western Judea

Article excerpt

`As it will be convenient to have a name for this culture, I propose to call it Natufian, after the Wady en-Natuf at Shukba, where we first found it in place' GARROD 1929:222

The Levant has long been the focus for study of the `Neolithic transition'. Recent years have seen important excavations at new sites such as Kfar HaHoresh (Israel) and Jerf el-Ahmar (Syria), as well as at previously excavated sites including el-Wad, Mount Carmel and Mallaha/Eynan, Upper Jordan Valley. Compared to elsewhere in the region, the Later Epipalaeolithic and Pre-pottery Neolithic landscapes of the West Bank are relatively unknown. Given the geographical proximity of the Natufian `core' (Carmel and Galilee), and of well-researched areas in, and to the east of, the Jordan Valley, there is much potential to transform our understanding of the occupation of the southern Levant at this crucial juncture in human history. As a contribution to this endeavour, we have initiated a new landscape archaeology project in the immediate area of the Natufian `type site' at Shuqba Cave in the Wadi en-Natuf, an area unexplored archaeologically since 1928.

The town of Shuqba lies in the western Judean Hills, 28 km northwest of Jerusalem. A kilometre south, running west towards the Mediterranean coastal plain, is the Wadi en-Natuf. Shuqba Cave, on the wadi's northern bank, was briefly investigated in 1924 by Father Alexis Mallon (Mallon 1925), who suggested that the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem take responsibility for excavating the cave. During the course of one season Dorothy Garrod, with a team of local workers, placed a trench in the central chamber (I) and a small sounding in Chamber III. Garrod (1928) identified an archaeological sequence which included a Late `Levallois-Mousterian' layer and, for the first time in a stratified deposit, the Mesolithic of Palestine which she subsequently termed `Natufian'. This layer contained charcoal traces and a previously unknown microlithic flint tool industry characterized by crescent-shaped lunates. Worked bone objects were also collected, and the fauna was dominated by gazelle, with the notable presence of domestic dog. The remains of 45 human skeletons, mostly fragmentary, allowed insights into a range of distinctive mortuary practices (Garrod & Bate 1942).

Garrod never returned to Shuqba, with work at the Mount Carmel Caves diverting her attention for several years (Garrod & Bate 1937). It is evident, however, that she fully intended to carry out at least one more season at Shuqba, reporting that `the greater part of the cave ... still remains to be excavated' (Garrod 1928: 185).

Our July 2000 preliminary season therefore involved: (a) identification of the limits of Garrod's 1928 trench; (b) assessment of the archaeological potential of the remaining deposits; (c) survey of the terrace; (d) brief reconnaissance of the Wadi en-Natuf in the immediate vicinity of the cave.

The cave

The area of Garrod's Chamber I trench is clearly visible, with the section on the southwest cave wall remaining reasonably intact. A massive limestone block, which overlay burial H.8, remains in the northeast side of the trench. A breached limestone mortar, not mentioned by Garrod, lies on the surface just inside the cave mouth. …