Recent Excavations at the Site of Erq-El-Ahmar. (News & Notes)

By Phillips, James L.; Saca, Iman N. | Antiquity, March 2002 | Go to article overview

Recent Excavations at the Site of Erq-El-Ahmar. (News & Notes)


Phillips, James L., Saca, Iman N., Antiquity


From 1928 to 1933 Rene Neuville surveyed, tested and partially excavated a series of sites southeast of Bethlehem in the Wadis Khareitoun and Jihar (Neuville 1934; 1951). Many of these sites have become famous in the literature of Levantine prehistory; sites such as Uum Qatafa, et-Tabban, Abu Sif and Tor Abu Sif, Uum Zoueitina and Erq-el-Ahmar contained assemblages which range from Lower Palaeolithic to Natufian; the Upper Palaeolithic levels at Erq-el-Ahmar were used by Neuville (1934) to develop his scheme for the Upper Palaeolithic sequence in the Levant (UP I-VI). Although his work was only marginally published, it represents, along with Turville-Petre (1927; 1932), and Garrod's work in Wadi Amud and on Mt Carmel (Garrod 1929; 1954; 1955; Garrod & Bate 1937), some of the first systematic excavations in the Central and Southern Levant. Preliminary results from the excavations at these sites, and others found in the Judean Desert after World War II -- such as el Khiam, el-Quseir and Masraq-en-Naj -- have intrigued the archaeological community for years. However, other than el-Khiam, which was re-excavated by Echegary in the early 1960s (Echegary 1964), none has been retested or re-excavated since Neuville worked there in the late 1920s, and Perrot's excavations at el-Khiam in the late 1940s.

We recently began a programme of re-survey and test excavations in the same two wadis as Neuville, looking for new sites, datable (no Palaeolithic site in the Judean desert has been radiometrically dated) and organic material and in situ lithic assemblages from the previously tested sites. This essay briefly reports on the test excavations at one site, Erq-el-Ahmar, in the summer of 2000.

Erq-el-Ahmar is a rock-shelter located in the Wadi Khareitoun some 8 km southeast of Bethlehem. The site is situated at 555 m a.s.l. and c. 25 m above the thalweg of the Wadi, with a north-south orientation (FIGURES 1, 2). It is 29 m long and c. 6 m wide. Neuville's team excavated toward the southern end of the shelter, revealing deposits c. 4 m thick, beginning with the Mousterian and terminating with an ephemeral Bronze Age utilization. According to the only published section (Neuville 1951: 87), the layers appear to be horizontal, with a slight dip toward the north. Toward the middle of the shelter, at the northern edge of their excavations, they attained their greatest depth, reaching bedrock at c. 4 m. According to Neuville, the site contained 11 sedimentary layers, labelled A-K from the top, of which only layers A-H contained cultural material. Layer H included a Mousterian assemblage c. 1 m thick (not differentiated), thickest to the north and fining up toward the south. In the jargon of today, the Mousterian assemblages from the site belong to the Tabun B tradition, containing short wide Levallois points. At the modern excavations of Kebara and Amud, this type of Mousterian dates to c. 62,000-48,000 BP (Bar-Yosef 2000; Rink et al. 2001).

[FIGURES 1-2 OMITTED]

The Upper Palaeolithic succession begins in Layer F (G is sterile), with Layers D-F containing UP III assemblages, Layer C an undifferentiated UP, and Layer B, according to Neuville's scheme, UP IV. Layer [A.sup.2] is early Natufian, while Layer A is Bronze Age. In modern parlance, if one looks at the drawings in the volume (1951:91-107), the assemblages from Layers B-F belong to the two main Upper Palaeolithic traditions, the Ahmarian and Levantine Aurignacian. Our test excavations were oriented toward the clarification of Neuville's sequence, in terms of chronological ordering of these traditions. Additionally, we were interested in seeking evidence for the existence of the Initial and Early Upper Palaeolithic (IUP, EUP, see Kuhn et al. 1999; Bar-Yosef 2000).

The importance of the Erq-el-Ahmar sequence for Upper Palaeolithic studies in the Levant are twofold: it is situated at the juncture of a number of ecotones, separating the more northern central Levant from the, today, semi-arid to arid southern Levant, and it contains stratified Upper Palaeolithic assemblages, as do some sites to the north, such as Kebara, el-Wad and Ksar Akil. …

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