The Oldest Ever Brush Hut Plant Remains from Ohalo II, Jordan Valley, Israel (19,000 BP)

By Nadel, Dani; Werker, Ella | Antiquity, December 1999 | Go to article overview

The Oldest Ever Brush Hut Plant Remains from Ohalo II, Jordan Valley, Israel (19,000 BP)


Nadel, Dani, Werker, Ella, Antiquity


Introduction

Architectural remains of dwellings are extremely rare in Upper Palaeolithic (c. 45,000-20,000 BP) and early Epipalaeolithic (c. 20,000-12,500 BP) sites in the Near East (e.g. Bar-Yosef & Belfer-Cohen 1989; 1992; Henry 1989; Garrard et al. 1994; Goring-Morris 1995; Marks 1976; 1977). Typical for these sites are scattered remains of tools and waste made of flint, animal bones and -- in some sites -- isolated hearths. In rare cases human burials were also discovered. Although there are many tens of sites, hut remains are extremely rare. The only examples are the partially preserved hut floors from Jilat 6 Phase A (c. 16,000 BP, Garrard et al. 1994) and Ein Gev I (c. 15,000 BP, Arensburg & Bar-Yosef 1973; Bar-Yosef 1978). At Ohalo II, a submerged site radiometrically dated to 19,400 years BP, excellent preservation conditions created a unique situation where a variety of organic remains were protected from the elements. The remains of three brush huts that have been unearthed make these huts the best preserved and probably the oldest of their kind in the world. This paper presents the construction details of one of these huts. The details include a sample of identified tree and plant species used for constructing the walls and roof. A suggested three-dimensional reconstruction of the hut is provided.

The site

Ohalo II was discovered in 1989, following a drastic drop in the water level of the Sea of Galilee, Jordan Valley, Israel (FIGURE 1). The site is located on the southwestern shore of the lake, at an elevation of 212.5 m below msl. In most years the site is submerged in 2-3 m of water. The archaeological features are in situ, in the marls of the Lisan Formation.

[Figure 1 ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Excavations revealed the remains of a camp, including three huts, a grave, a stone installation, several kinds of fireplaces and what seems to have been an area for garbage disposal (FIGURES 2, 3) (Nadel 1995; 1996; 1997; Nadel et al. 1994; Nadel et al. 1995). The three huts were very close to one another, each 3-5 m long. Their long axis has a general north-south orientation. All huts were burnt, and their charred remains were clearly visible against the bright marls. They all contained a wealth of remains on the floors, of which are noteworthy flints, animal bones and burnt fruit/seeds. The hearths were placed outside the huts, and three concentrations of them are to the south and west of the huts. In each series of hearths, the sediment and contents are distinct.

[Figures 2-3 ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

A grave was exposed to the west of the huts. A complete skeleton was found in a shallow pit, supine with the head to the north (Nadel 1994; 1995). Three stones were set under the head to support it. A small gazelle bone with several series of short parallel incisions was placed in the grave near the head. The burial was of an adult male, 1.73 m tall and 35-40 years-old at the time of death (Hershkovitz, Edelson et al. 1993; Hershkovitz, Spiers et al. 1995). According to the arm and chest bones, he was a disabled person during his last years. This is interpreted as reflecting social commitment to such members of the local social group.

Many charred plant remains of an impressive variety have been recovered. These are very common in all huts and hearths at Ohalo II, but are rare or absent in most contemporaneous sites in the Middle East and indeed elsewhere (Kislev et al. 1992; Simchoni 1997). Remains of tens of thousands of seeds and fruits of c. 100 species have been identified so far. These include many edible plant species, such as wild barley, wild wheat and acorns. Going by the ripening months of the recovered seeds and fruits (spring, summer, autumn) it proved possible to reconstruct the seasons of occupation at the site. Additional support for a multi-season occupation was found in the analysis of cementum of gazelle teeth (Lieberman 1993) and during the study of some 500 bones of birds (Simmons & Nadel 1998). …

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