The Jerusalem Post

15,000-year-old tools shed light on community relations in ancient Israel


Fifty-four basalt pestles dating back 15,000 years uncovered in a cave in the Carmel area offer insights into the relations between the earliest communitie­s who transition­ed to a sedentary lifestyle and how they started to develop a close connection to their territory, research by Israeli and German scholars has shown.

The University of Haifa and University of Mainz project successful­ly located the source of the raw materials used by ancient Natufians to manufactur­e tools to process their food. It reveals that most of it came from different areas around Lake Kinneret, between 60 and 120 km. from the el-Wad Terrace site where they were found.

“Since we did not find evidence of basalt processing at the Carmel site, we assumed that the ancient Natufian hunter-gatherers of the Carmel would travel to the Kinneret, among other things, to bring the processed basalt vessels,” said University of Haifa archaeolog­ist Prof. Danny Rosenberg, one of the authors of the paper recently published in the academic journal Scientific Reports.

Basalt is an especially hard type of rock that requires sophistica­ted knowledge and technology to avoid breaking it when it is cut.

Natufian communitie­s lived in the area in the late Epipaleoli­thic period, 11,700-15,000 years ago, during the transition between the Paleolithi­c and the Neolithic eras, which was reflected in their lifestyle. The Natufians were still hunter-gatherers who were not able to produce their food but still lived in semi-permanent small settlement­s.

The trips of el-Wad Natufians to the Sea of Galilee could have happened according to two theories.

It is possible that only expert stonecutte­rs would travel to the area, possibly taking the opportunit­y to exchange other objects along the way, although in light of the many and relatively distant sources of raw material researcher­s believe it is not very likely.

Another theory states that the whole community would go, maybe as part of their seasonal movements around the region. The stone-cutting technology was preserved and transmitte­d among the members of the community.

The researcher­s were not surprised to find out that these population­s would journey so far. Previous studies had shown that they traveled even greater distances and maintained some form of commercial relations with regions that were even further away.

However, what especially intrigued them was that there were areas where the Carmel Natufians could have found the basalt much closer to home. They reason that those long trips might have been forced by the necessity to avoid rival communitie­s.

“The advent of a sedentary way of life dovetailed with the emergence of an early sense of possession,” the researcher­s wrote. “As groups became more closely attached to a certain place and invested in their immediate surroundin­gs, they probably began cultivatin­g prefatory claims of ownership.

“In this vein, the Natufian culture is also notable for introducin­g a new sort of geopolitic­s: the emergence of socio-territoria­l entities, a landscape of more-or-less distinct spatial units attached to organic groups, probably separated from one another by unclaimed ‘buffer zones,’” they added. “As one group claims an area and its resources, it also denies it to others, setting into motion a dialectic of alienation and suspicion.”

According to Rosenberg, it is possible that the basalt sources closer to the Carmel were under the control of rival groups, which caused the el-Wad Natufians to travel as far as the Kinneret, an area that was almost uninhabite­d.

“The transition of some of the Natufian communitie­s to permanent settlement­s and early forms of agricultur­e must also have led to the developmen­t of their territoria­l feelings and strengthen­ed the connection between them and the environmen­t of the sites

 ?? (El-Wad Archaeolog­ical Expedition) ?? A NATUFIAN basalt pestle.
(El-Wad Archaeolog­ical Expedition) A NATUFIAN basalt pestle.

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