Palaeolithic Landscape of Extraction: Flint Surface Quarries and Workshops at Mt Pua, Israel

By Barkai, Ran; Gopher, Avi et al. | Antiquity, September 2002 | Go to article overview

Palaeolithic Landscape of Extraction: Flint Surface Quarries and Workshops at Mt Pua, Israel


Barkai, Ran, Gopher, Avi, La Porta, Philip C., Antiquity


A complex Late Acheulian--Early Mousterian quarry landscape was discovered during reconnaissance of prehistoric communities in the central Dishon Valley, Northern Israel (FIGURE 1). The site is on the fiat, narrow summit of Mt Pua, where numerous flint nodules of various sizes are exposed within the limestone outcrops (Barkai & Gopher 2001). The summit is studded with hundreds of tailings (quarry debris heaps), each covered with flint nodules and prehistoric artefacts (tested nodules, cores, roughouts, tools, blanks and knapped lithic waste material). Preliminary mapping revealed approximately 1500 tailing heaps (FIGURE 2), varying in size from <1 to >15 m in diameter and from <0.3 to >3 m in height (FIGURE 3).

[FIGURES 1-3 OMITTED]

Geological controls on quarry development

Quarry activities at Mt Pua were concentrated at higher elevations, where the nearly flat-lying limestone beds (karrens) form a series of steps. These locations were preferable to lower elevations for practical reasons, most importantly the enhancement of master joint systems (regular networks of near-vertical fractures in the bedrock) by solution weathering. Accelerated dissolution of the limestone along the master joints enabled easier prying-away of the limestone to reach the desired flint nodules. The master joints at Mt Pua rarely intersect flint nodules, so the thick limestone beds were crushed and broken along joints before the flint was extracted from the limestone matrix. Large, homogeneous limestone blocks were apparently used as hammerstones. These are rectangular to sub-rounded masses of dense limestone derived from the local outcrops and are simply joint-bounded blocks with crushed edges, sometimes slightly modified for use in quarry extraction (FIGURE 4).

[FIGURE 4 OMITTED]

The summit area also provided room for manoeuvre of extraction debris as the outcrops were quarried and enabled the development of a large-scale quarry complex. In contrast, lower elevation locations have master joint systems that are still tightly sealed (owing to a less advanced state of weathering) and only one face of the outcrops would have been visible, making it more difficult not only to extract the flint but even to assess just how much flint was available to be quarried. Furthermore, preliminary geological reconstruction seems to indicate that sources at lower elevations might not have been exposed during the Middle Pleistocene (Ronen et al. 1974; Yair 1962). The importance of solution-enhanced master joint systems to the Paleolithic quarrying process is apparent at other locations in Israel (personal observations by the authors), where extensive Palaeolithic quarry landscapes have developed in limestone formations.

Surface quarrying at Mt Pua

Most, if not all the extraction debris heaps lie adjacent to limestone outcrops containing flint nodules. Numerous nodules have eroded from the outcrop owing to natural weathering processes. However, specific breakage patterns and impact marks observed on the outcrops described above, as well as massive hammerstones bearing impact marks, indicate human exploitation of the flint nodules by `surface quarrying' (e.g. Claris & Quartermaine 1989). Preliminary reconstruction of the extraction techniques applied at the site reveals that Palaeolithic hominids took advantage of master joints in the limestone outcrops, by expanding the joints using massive hammerstones, smashing the limestone blocks and extracting the flint nodules, heaping the extraction waste close to the extraction front. The large quantities of broken blocks found in the waste heaps are thus products of this surface quarrying. Test pits excavated at two different heaps indicate that the tailing heaps overlie exhausted flint sources. Finer-scale flint debris interspersed between the blocks indicates that flint-working took place on top of these heaps throughout all stages of their `construction'. …

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